Friday, March 27, 2020

Corona shutdown and music

There are certain things I have not dug into musically that I always thought I would catch up on someday, if I had the time. 

Suddenly, I have the time.

The list so far includes everything Lou Reed recorded after Ecstasy. I love that album; it's magnificent on headphones, has some really arresting lyrics, and it cares not at all about pandering to fans of Transformer or such. It helps, too, that I saw Lou in Tokyo touring it - one of those top concert experiences of mine, where Lou and Mike Rathke just dug into playing with each other and ignored Lou's hits until a fast, bored, let's-get-this-over-with encore. I didn't need the encore, and there were songs I would have liked to hear that I didn't ("The Blue Mask," say), but seeing Lou and Mike dig into playing with each other was pure pleasure.

But The Raven? I wasn't ready. Lulu with Metallica, appearing to a fanfare of boos? Nope, not at the time. But now I'm checking out both of them, listened to all of Lulu today, on headphones in bed with my eyes closed, and it's magnificent. Really ambitious. There's a lot of moments that I don't care for, places where Lars Ulrich seems to get a bit sloppy, or where Hetfield's voice takes on too much of a... James Hetfield quality; but it's definitely a Lou Reed project, and deserves a lot more love than it got. 

The other band I have been digging deeper into is the Screaming Trees; I have plenty of their albums around (tho' I am missing a few), but only recently started to really get into Sweet Oblivion and Invisible Lantern. ("Night Comes Creeping" is really crazily good, very fun and peppy!). A band I never saw; I caught Mark Lanegan solo once, opening for Nick Cave, but his solo stuff hasn't really hooked me.

There's a lot else I could explore... looking forward to having the time. Let's just hope that the crisis ends before I have time to catch up with Neil Young. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The New Ford Pier is here!

After that stunning opening set for Bob Mould a few years ago - about which I had interviewed Ford Pier at length - I approached Ford and asked him, enthusiastically, "hey, what album is that bleeding-out-my-ass song on?"

I was, you see, at that point either in the midst of, or just recovering from, a very uncomfortable ordeal involving kidney stones and a stent to keep my urine flowing, which meant I was (sorry) pissing blood for months. Even though Ford's ass and my penis - let them never again be spoken of in the same sentence! - are very different orifices, the lyric to the effect of "happy days are here again/ I'm bleeding out my ass" REALLY RESONATED with me, and there was a dense, witty wordplay to the lyrics that I wanted more of.

Alas, the song was not on an album at that point, Ford explained, and then we went on to marvel at how attentive the audience had been, which was not the norm for solo opening slots of his I had seen, or indeed, most opening acts for most shows I've been to in Vancouver. But to come back to the bleeding-out-my-ass song, again, I wish I had been prepared when Ford opened for Eugene Chadbourne last month at Pat's Pub to record the song, which it turns out Ford has titled, "Ponce De Leon Vs. the Risible Shuck of Authenticity." I did not record it. I did record "Make It Look Like an Accident," also on the new album, but I don't love it as much as I love "Ponce De Leon Vs. the Risible Shuck of Authenticity," the title of which I hope to write enough times in this blogpiece that it supplants "the-bleeding-out-my-ass-song" as the way I think of it.

I have no idea what "Ponce De Leon Vs. the Risible Shuck of Authenticity" actually means, since I haven't read about Ponce De Leon in decades and have forgotten who he is. I do get the joke behind the title "Gormful in Maya," mind you, with the small qualification that before receiving Ford's pres release this morning, I had always thought "gormless" meant "lacking testicles." It is more like "befuddled, lacking sense." So it's about having being smart in the realm of illusion, not about having big balls.

I am going to totally download this album as soon as I get paid, to thank Ford for putting it out online, though note: he has made it available for free if you prefer it that way. He writes:

There were arrangements underway for a release like any other on the eve of another European jaunt, but Mother Nature had different plans. None of us today are living the lives we'd prepared ourselves for six months ago, and if records are living things, as I believe they are in many significant ways, then why should we expect that they should? So I've decided to offer the record for free/PWYW on Bandcamp. It's my hope that it will become a welcome part of everyone's sequestration! Future fond memories of a difficult time? Surely I delude myself! A coping mechanism, then. Gormful In Maya. Please enjoy.

I am no longer bleeding out my penis (and hope Ford never was bleeding out his ass), but I still love this song, and am looking forward to Friday, when I can PWIW to download it. Thanks for putting this out, Ford! Check this out, folks!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Strange dreams of my father, drunk, and an irresponsible and unprofitable trip to a bookstore

The cat leaps on me at 7:24 AM. I guess I'm awake. On the plus side, without him doing that, I wouldn't have remembered my dreams.

The parts and pieces of the dream don't seem to have been presented in the right order as I dreamed them, but in a sort of assemble-them-yourself, out-of-sequence jigsaw that can only be read one way. So I'm going to try to just assemble the puzzle, put it in narrative order, if I can...

In the dream, I am working somewhere. I don't think it's an ESL school or so forth; it's somewhere where there has been a management change (something my wife has dealt with in the last year, but not me) and I have been under a bit of pressure.

I decide at some point to leave for lunch and go to a thrift store to see if I can find some books I can resell, with the intention of going back to work afterwards, thinking I can make it in time. I know (in real life, in the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown) a used bookdealer who is open for business, and talked to both him and one of his employees on the phone yesterday, just to say hi, basically, and check in. (I did NOT chide them for being open during a pandemic; it's probably safer in that tiny store than any of the big box stores that people are crowding into for groceries, and what the hell, people might need a few books during the coming lockdown). In the dream, I spend a half hour in the thrift store - a corner of a basement in what feels like a Salvation Army, but is priced more like a Value Village - finding things said bookdealer might buy, putting them in my basket. The books are a bit pricy, but there are some promising ones, including some older books. The only specific title I remember seeing on the shelf is Tom Robbins' Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, which in fact I don't buy, since it's pretty common, and the only Robbins books out there said bookdealer usually wants, if he's out of stock, are Jitterbug Perfume and sometimes Skinny Legs and All (really). Fierce Invalids is not worth the investment. 

I don't think any of this is significant - in the dream, I had a clear picture of the other books, too, it just didn't survive into the waking world; another - not a real book, and not the sort of book I would actually have considered buying - was a history of World War I and II, oversized and older, that said bookdealer would later say would appeal to Chinese customers, looking it up online to establish that it was actually worth something. It is interesting that the two specific books that stayed with me both could be tied into the COVID-19 crisis, since the Robbins' title seems to resonate with Canadians stuck overseas, and the second has a reference to China -  but that might just be coincidence.

Anyhow, I fill my basket, and - if I've got the order right; it really did feel jumbled when I woke up - I then go back to the apartment where I live with my parents, who apparently are both still alive in the dream, to see if my father (who, in real life, gave up his car back in the 1990's, though he was a driver) can give me a ride, since I'm afraid I'm going to be late for work. The apartment seems to be laid out like a place my folks actually lived in in the early 1990's, before I moved out on my own, except that the real apartment was in Maple Ridge, and in the dream, the apartment is in downtown Vancouver. Often when I dream, I find myself living in Maple Ridge with my parents, except it's in the 216 and Dewdney Trunk condos where I grew up (Richmond Court, for those who keep a record: 21555 Dewdney Trunk Road, V2X 3G6, but I forget the unit number. This dream is a little unusual in that it takes us to the next location they lived at after they sold that condo, to get out of debt - which they would soon find themselves right back in again. The building was on 122nd street - 22292 122nd, maybe? - and I lived there with them from about age 21 to age 26. It's mildly interesting that my dreaming brain seems to be updating its sense of where I live, like if I live another 30 years - unlikely as that presently seems - I'll only then be dreaming of myself living where I now really DO live).

In the dream, my father is not home, but arrives as I sit in my bedroom, looking through the books and trying to decide how I'm going to get to the bookstore and back to my real job without being outrageously late (and what I might say if discovered). Suddenly he comes home! I ask him to drive me, and he says he can't; I move to explain why it's urgent, and realize - he's totally drunk. Friendly and happy about it, in the somewhat playful, sentimental way that would often be his go-to when drinking, but soused to the point of uselessness. Nevermind my getting to the store -  I'm worried that he might have driven home!

My father, for the record, was not a heavy drinker, though he drank too often when he was dying of cancer, back in 2009, and I lectured him too much about it. But the cancer had spread to his liver, and my thought was he could have bought himself time by not taxing his liver with alcohol. And I resented his drinking, a bit, back then, since it took him away from being emotionally grounded and present with us. I was jealous of it, of his drinking taking the best of him away from us. After he died, I would regret simply not having drunk more with him, rather than hoping he would join Mom and I in sobriety, so we could have quality time, or whatever it was I thought would happen... we could have had a different kind of quality time if I'd just joined him in the bottle, and he would have felt less nagged, less judged.

Some lessons you figure out too late.

Anyhow, I don't remember much of our conversation from the dream; he explains how he came to be drunk in the middle of the day, involving his having run into someone he knew. He accompanies me to the lobby of the building, staggering a bit, where I reassure him that I do NOT want a ride, and tell him very sincerely that I love him; I think that I think I should do this, in the dream, because I know when I wake up, he's going to be dead again. But then it's back to the plan: I race down to what seems to be Dunsmuir Street (near where my actual job is), trying to orient myself. There's a street sign for Main. I take a minute to decide on a plan, and end up at the foot of a Vancouver bridge, where I can catch a bus. This is the last thing I seem to remember in the dream, the last piece of the puzzle I am given, if I am right about things being presented a-sequentially for me to sort out; but there's stuff that happens after it, that may have come before, so let's follow the linear order of the story; who the hell do you think you are, dreaming brain, Quentin Tarantino?

Once I get to the bookstore, said bookdealer goes through my selections and arrives at a price for them: $69, which works out to about three dollars a book (I think I actually have 13 books in the dream, not 23, but my dreaming brain may not be good at math; 69 divided by 13 is $3 each, which is what I arrive at in the dream, and in the dream, it makes sense to me there). "But I paid three dollars a book! You mean I did this all for nothing? Can you bump it up a little?"

He obliges me and gives me $75, and then I race back off to work, thinking, Jesus, I've been gone an hour and a half, I guess I'll tell them I took my hour lunch break and my half an hour coffee break together and won't take any other breaks during the day. Maybe my supervisor will let me get away with that?

I have no idea now what this "dream job" (ha) was supposed to be - not my actual one, for sure, and maybe not even a tutoring gig - but all I remember is feeling the stress of trying to fit back in, hoping no one noticed I'd been gone for an hour and a half, and chastising myself for having compromised the job for a mere $6 profit. Will the Chinese really pay a premium on that war book? Wasn't it supposed to be valuable? Did my bookdealer friend actually give me a fair price for it? Maybe he forgot it... I sure hope my supervisor doesn't see me...

Thanks, cat, for having preserved my dream for me!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Record your memories now: what were you doing when the world ended?

So different people have different ideas about when this all will end.

The Cinematheque, for example, has announced that it is in the midst of a "temporary closure" from March 16th to April 15th, which leaves a slim hope that my Clearcut screening on April 22nd will go ahead... except, given rising numbers of infected and dead - 77 new cases today in BC, with a province-wide ban going into place on dining in in restaurants as of today - and scary stories about people who are relatively young and healthy dying, this seems wildly optimistic. While I am not entirely glum, wild optimism about the future is not my current state of mind - more like "mildly panicked but holding the fort." I've been indoors all day today. I ventured out briefly for some essentials yesterday, but even picking up a shopping basket that had been handled by others at Walmart was kind of freaking me out (no one was thinking to sanitize them, though a cashier was kind enough to give me a pump from her jumbo squirt-bottle when I was done). And I am as worried about passing on contagion as I am about receiving it: as a tutor at a college with a dental program, which had people at the conference that someone with COVID-19 attended, it is easy to imagine that I have been exposed to the virus, though I have no reason to think so, am at this point entirely asymptomatic. I may be fine - I am not taking pains to sanitize everything I touch, because if I do, we'll be out of sani-wipes in a week; and if I do have the virus (or if Erika does), we've probably already given it to each other... but (unlike the five kids playing basketball happily tomorrow on the court outside my window) I am not kidding myself that this is all going to be over soon.

This makes me want to record a few things, for posterity, and for entertainment, and to urge other people to do the same, so if and when they get a chance to look back on their lives, they will have a record. Here, therefore, are some questions you can answer, if you like. No doubt most of this will take place on an ephemeral forum like Facebook, but me, for vanity, because I think someday somebody might care, I'm starting it out on my blog.

Here are the questions so far. There may be other good ones. I'll answer my own questions below.

What was the last meal you ate at a restaurant?  
What was the last concert you saw? (Or what were the last few concerts, if you're a music fan and want to record more than one).  
What was the last movie you saw in a theatre? 
If you have been told to stay home, what was your last day at your workplace? 
What was the last deliberate physical contact you had with someone who does not live with you? 
What was the last big trip to a store, to shop for something frivolous?  
What plans have you cancelled, because of COVID-19?
And now, here are my answers.

What was the last meal you ate at a restaurant? 

I am not entirely sure, but the last real "eating out" kinda restaurant experience I had was Erika Lax and I going to Mr. Ho's in Burnaby for wonton soup and a shared dish of green beans and chicken in black bean sauce, served with rice. That was Saturday, March 14th, and we loved it. While being nothing fancy, they've been our local, reliable Chinese restaurant for a few years now.

But there have been a couple of other occasions besides that which may count: I've also eaten, since then, at the cafeteria at the college where I work, on Monday the 16th - which seems a long time ago, since the school was still holding physical classes, with face-to-face tutoring, and an open cafeteria. That was at the "Asian kitchen" there, where the school's culinary students served me noodles, broccoli, and decent but not exceptional Chinese dishes involving beef and pork (Mr. Ho's is better). The cafeteria had, at that point, replaced the long tables, which sat about ten, with small, one-person-sized tables - something done at the last minute, maybe that very morning - but even that wasn't measure enough; I went to school the next day, on the understanding that I would still be tutoring students from my computer at the Learning Centre, but face-to-face tutoring would be suspended, to discover that the cafeteria was closed, with no plans to reopen anytime soon. Since I had to commute between campuses to attend an emergency meeting about changed circumstances - this Tuesday, which also ended up being the day of my emergency root canal, more on which below - I took advantage of my proximity to the Commercial Skytrain to grab two slices of Megabite pizza. Erika and I also had some takeout since (a Hawaiian pizza again), but I'm guessing sitting across from each other at a restaurant is not an experience we'll be having for a few months, or maybe ever again. So that last one at Ho's, I guess, is the moment to remember. (We couldn't sit down in there now if we wanted to, I'm sure they're shuttered to all but takeout).

What was the last concert you saw? (Or what were the last few concerts, if you're a music fan and want to record more than one...). 

I'm gonna mention three that I saw before things started shutting down: Doug Andrew and the Circus in Flames, the Graham Brown Band, and EddyD and the Sex Bombs at the Fairview on my 52nd birthday on March 7th. Doug got everyone to sing Happy Birthday To You to me (thanks, Doug!). Preoccupied with the birthday boy stuff, I didn't actually shoot any video of him, but I enjoyed the few new songs he debuted, and I shared cake that Erika had bought with a bunch of my friends (including Doug and Eddy and Shelley Preston and a few other people). I chatted with Scott McLeod, Jack "Fucking" Keating (who I guess will have to postpone his Mayday fuck band celebration), and my friends Tom Charity and Fiona Morrow, Bob and Beth Hanham, John Werner, Ed Hurrell, and the famed DOA colouring book/ NO FUN cassette-cover artist ARGH! (Nick Mitchum on Facebook - he gave me a Chewbacca-themed birthday card). Erika and I left a bit early, despite Eddy having listed us, because it was well past midnight, and Erika had a Weight Watchers meeting to attend the next morning, which involved waking up at 8am (it also has turned out to be Erika's final non-virtual Weight Watchers). I was given a gift by Ed Hurrell of music he and Nick Mitchum (real name Ken) had recorded, but I have no idea where that got to, actually! I also bought a Graham Brown CD, and have listened to it since - it's good! And John Werner is on it! Check it out here...

By the way, I did shoot video of Graham Brown, and another of Eddy D. and the Sex Bombs. Great bands. Thanks to everyone who came out (missing the Lou Reed tribute at Lanalou's - it was nice to have a gathering of friends before all this went down).

After that, I went to see Coco Montoya with Paul Pigat, at the Rickshaw on March 8th. There was a weirdly expressive and slightly drunk woman who tried to get friendly with Erika Lax, who is more sociable than I am, but she quickly irritated me, doing things like grabbing my backpack (which she insisted stay on a seat she wasn't sitting in, so it could reserve the seat, even though she'd piled her sweater and such on top of it and wasn't sitting anyways); at one point, when I went to move it, she - assuming I was doing it for her benefit, but really because I would rather have my pack between my legs than on a seat beside me -  grabbed my arm with both her bare hands to stop me - which is something I don't care for even if there isn't a virus scare about. I actually shouted at her to get her hands off me, but strangely enough, neither she nor my wife seemed to hear me - it's like my reaction was so outside the realm of expected behaviour it was invisible.

Anyhow, Pigat blew Erika and I away, and I excitedly bought a Boxcar Campfire CD off him, and got him to sign it to Erika and myself. Oddly enough, Paul trotted up beside me on the street the next day as I was walking to work. He said Coco was really sweet to hang out with. I told him that he blew Coco off the stage the other night. He's a pretty humble guy, I think - or quiet in his pride? - but goddamn, his guitar work that night shone. We only chatted for a minute, but we were both looking ahead to Billy Bragg at that point. Was that really only a week ago?

Finally, on March 11th, I went to see The Imperial - the new group with Scott McLeod, Cam Alexander, Rich Katynski, and Michael Nathanson, whom I interviewed for the Straight; Nathanson was also drumming for Betty Bathory's band Paranoid Romantic. Video of The Imperial here and here, and Paranoid Romantic here. Before arriving, I had grabbed a Chinese dinner after work at a Taiwanese beef noodle place, which was spicy but not really my thing, and checked in with Bob Hanham, to look through a GG Allin book he'd given me for my birthday (!) - he had gotten a copy for himself, but hadn't cracked it open yet, and I thought he'd be curious, so I opened mine (later, it would prompt Betty Bathory to tell the story of the time she had worn a t-shirt that had been drawn on and worn by GG Allin himself. She made the obvious joke - she's immune to Coronavirus because she wore a t-shirt once worn by GG). I had never been at the Roxy before, and hadn't seen either of the bands playing before, so it was really fun; my friend Judith Beeman popped up, and I got a handshake from Cam and a hug from Betty (and maybe Judith), all of which may be things people won't do so much anymore. (Bob also reluctantly shook my hand but suggested we stick to elbow bumps thereafter).

What was the last movie you saw in a theatre? 

Easy: A day or two before my birthday, at Cineplex International Village, with Erika: Disappearance at Clifton Hill. Which is interesting and fresh but ultimately one of those kind of quirky Canadian thrillers that takes a page from arthouse and independent cinema and leaves you with more questions than answers, at first (though I think enough pieces are there that you can sort things out.) It wasn't great. David Cronenberg was in it. He was better as Dekker. I like seeing him act, but this role wasn't entirely the right one, let's put it that way (he plays a conspiracy-minded Niagra Falls blogger who dives for stuff lost to the falls). Movie is worth checking out if it pops up on Netflix or something, not bad - unique - but also not great.

If you have been told to stay home, what was your last day at your workplace?

Last day I was told to go in was Tuesday the 17th. The morning when I was told I didn't have to - that I could work from home - was Wednesday the 18th. I went in that day, anyhow, in order to get a few things; almost no one was on the Skytrain that day, despite it having been standing room only for a good part of the ride the previous two days. I would say March 18th was the day we got serious about social distancing. Oddly, it was also my third anniversary with Erika.

Spent most of Thursday and Friday training on software we'll need to tutor online and hold virtual meetings and such. Today, we were told, basically, not to come in to even pick up stuff, unless we cleared it ahead of time.

I am kind of coveting an office chair from the Learning Centre, actually. If I'm going to be tutoring from home, I might as well be seated comfortably.

What was the last deliberate physical contact you had with someone who does not live with you?

Tuesday, I ended up discovering that the dental appointment I thought I was having the coming Saturday - ie., tomorrow, as I write this - had been cancelled, and a new appointment could be scheduled with an endodontist, but only if I went that afternoon, because all dental clinics were closing down. I think I told this story above already, but I had a very fast and almost painless root canal in a front tooth, which left me broke, but also without pain, which had been getting intense. (It was not one of those "infected tooth" scenarios; I'd bitten something the wrong way, which compromised a filling, which in turn caused my nerve to get inflamed and, according to my dentist, start dying. By Tuesday afternoon, if I had anything hot or cold or put pressure on the tooth, it led to an explosion of agony that I could feel throughout my skull. It needed dealing with. Thank you, Drs. Shuen, Alblans,and Hafezi, for your work here! (Dr. Hafezi was the guy who finally got'er done).

Anyhow, on the way to the root canal, a high school English teacher I had when I was sixteen beelined for me on Broadway street and presented his fist for a fist bump. I did not want to fist bump anyone at that point, but I obliged him, then made apologies - "I'm just rushing off for a last minute root canal." I mean, he's a bit of a character, I guess, but he introduced me to the music of Phil Ochs when I was young, so there's that.

In any event, in terms of last physical contact with a stranger, I guess it is either said former high school teacher, or my dentist. The dentist wore gloves, though, so...

What was the last big trip to a store, to shop for something frivolous?  

On payday, March 13th - which I had off - before everything shut down and I realized I would need emergency root canal surgery from a specialist (thus not covered fully by our dental plans, costing me around four hundred un-planned for and un-reimbursable dollars, on March 16th, the day most dental offices shut down), I dragged about 70 CDs and five or ten LPs to Sunrise Records for a trade in. They had Church of Misery's Master of Brutality, which their manager - an affable chap who worked briefly at Red Cat, and before that at the Robson HMV - had special ordered initially for himself. Having seen their show here a couple weeks ago, I was totally gung-ho to own their smokin' cover of "Cities on Flame" on vinyl. But it turned out that I got about $150 for that trade in, so I splurged on Todd Haynes' new film Dark Waters, which Erika and I kind of loved - it's not as morally complex or intellectually challenging as Safe, which is still Haynes' masterpiece, but it surprised me in that it actually turned out to be a keeper. I also upgraded my copy of Bug! (the William Castle production about fire-starting cockroaches, directed by sometimes-Vancouver resident Jeannot Swarcz, of Jaws II fame, and adapted from Thomas Page's novel The Haephestus Plague, which I read as a teen and loved.

Oh, on my big trade in, I grabbed The Deer Hunter and Fifteen Days, the latter because Bob Hanham had likened our current situation to the Cuban Missile Crisis. And the Beastie Boys Ill Communication on vinyl (we've been doing a bit of hip hop, here).

The next day - Saturday the 14th - I made a trip to Videomatica, and grabbed another horror movie based on a novel that I read as a teen, Nightwing, on blu-ray from Mill Creek with a Daryl-Duke co-directed film called Shadow of the Hawk, which I have not seen. Actually, I had never seen the film of Nightwing, either - I missed it as a kid, so I have wanted to see it for something like 40 years. Scratch that itch! Both are horror movies set within First Nations communities, and both star non-First Nations actors as supposed aboriginals. As far as Italian-American actors go, Nick Mancuso in Nightwing makes a far better native than Armand Assante in Prophecy. 

Anyhow, the timeline is all tangled now, since this wasn't meant to be in sequence, but I had consulted with my second-to-last dentist that day, and made an appointment that got cancelled for root canal surgery the following week, which ended up getting cancelled - hence the scramble for someone who could handle me on the 16th. I thought, at that point, that I had a lot more money to tide me over than I turned out to... a Videomatica run seemed excusable. By Tuesday, having paid for that endodontist, such things were out of the question.

I've been to the local Walmart and a couple of other places since, but not for non-essentials (unless you count the tulips I bought for my wife yesterday, when getting groceries).

By the way, I got to meet and chat with Church of Misery (that's a vid I shot that night), and loved their Vancouver show, not too too long ago. Really glad I got to see Eugene Chadbourne one more time, too (especially his cover of "Eight Miles High!"). That's one of two vids I shot that night that I posted... touring rock and roll bands... hope you've seen plenty of them, enough to make the memories last. It's like someday grandparents will be telling their grandkids about the good 'ol days when people gathered in the hundreds just to have fun!

What plans have you cancelled, because of COVID-19?

Well, I have stopped thinking I will rush to transcribe my Ryszard Bugajski interview, apropos of the Clearcut screening that I assume will be cancelled, and I had to cancel an interview that I had set up with Seattle stoner doom duo Year of the Cobra, who had been planning to play Pub 340 in April. With the border and Pub 340 both closed, that interview has been put on indefinite hiatus. (Good, apocalyptic heaviness with a female vocalist; they take a page from bass-and-drum duos like Om, but I actually like them better).

I had also thought I would write, as time allowed, about storc, Eddy D, Betty Bathory, the SLIP~ons, Fu Manchu, Martin Barre, Vile Creature, and Satanic doo-wop band Twin Temple, who were going to open for Tiger Army. And I was looking forward to seeing all of said people play. While I realize all these people/ bands exist, still, and that some will be shifting to alternate modes of delivery like livestreamed concerts you can pay for, I think I am better off focusing my energies and monies on surviving the apparent end of the world, or whatever this is. If you thought it was tough getting by as a musician before the world ended...

Tonight, Erika and I watched Shaun of the Dead, at least until she fell asleep beside me on the couch. I am thinking we will try Juan of the Dead and maybe the remake of Dawn of the Dead, neither of which she has seen (I tried the Romero Dawn with her but she fell asleep both times we started it).

I'm so glad we're together. I did a Happy Anniversary post for us on Facebook, but not here. Life would be kind of unthinkable if I were single, right now.

I turn my questions over to the rest of you - document the moment for posterity, maybe? Maybe it will be interesting for people to look back on how life was pre-COVID-19 (or maybe I'm being too dramatic?)

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

...when you stop to think about it...

In a way, the empty streets, shuttered businesses, and respectful distances are remarkable glimpses into our capacity for collective action. This virus is forcing us to change the way we are living, and for the most part, we're rising to the occasion. It's a shame we can't meet every challenge (global warming, say) so effectively - but who knows, maybe this crisis will somehow empower us to take action?

Monday, March 16, 2020

Coronanoia 4: My Tooth and the Real World

I owe Dave Bowes a thank you. On Facebook, he corrected a misapprehension of mine that I think maybe other people share: the efforts at social distancing are NOT in aid of attempting to defeat the new virus; they're in aid of slowing exposure to it, to give the health care system a chance to catch up, so that that portion of the population that requires hospitalization and urgent care can receive it. The virus is probably with us for good now - it seems definitely to be out of the bag, unless a vaccine can be created - but if a shit ton of us get sick at once, that's going to mean some people dying needlessly, because the resources are not going to be there to help them. That's what "flattening the curve" means. Stephen Hamm, Theremin Man posted a useful video explaining this.

I had not fully understood the logic of all this until late in the game, and now that I do, things kind of make sense. The important takeaway here is that social distancing is NOT being advised because people are saying it is dangerous to be around other people right now, the end of the world, etc. There's no cause for getting all survivalist here! It's just about preventing a rapid uptick in cases of COVID-19, so that our hospitals can continue to function... it's going to hurt a lot of small businesses, but it's not the end of the world; it's just a cautionary measure, and it's kind of impressive that basically everyone except the Reverend Horton Heat is on board with it, from Disneyland to Cineplex, from Live Nation to the bars of Vancouver on St. Paddy's Day. It's been a bit confusing, and I think the world could use a bit more top-down reassurance and help with thinking things through, but there is no cause to panic.

Unless you have a root canal that needs urgent doing, and you've discovered that dentist's offices are shutting down for a few weeks, which is what happened to me this morning. I had quite a panicky run to an endodontist I don't know for a procedure that was scheduled this very morning, because my appointment for next weekend was cancelled. It's a good thing I called my dentist's office this morning and set things in motion, because even the endodontist I saw was preparing to close his offices as of tonight. He managed to do a fast and ALMOST painless root canal of an inflamed nerve, and put in a permanent filling (which probably won't require a crown). Glad my work let me take the time off to get it done. Not sure what the rest of the province is going to do about their dental needs, but...

...anyhow, I have a fixed tooth, and Erika and I have just enough groceries that we can get by for a week without much going out (tho' I think we will both still be going to work and back).

Good luck to the rest of you. Don't panic. Things will sort themselves out - a new normal will emerge. Meantime, here's Arnold Schwarzenegger, a pony, and a donkey to cheer you up.

Saturday, March 14, 2020


Add to the mix of stresses:  I have a bad tooth, getting exponentially worse, requiring a root canal. It first flared up on Wednesday or Thursday; the dentist today said it was "too hot" to work on it, and re-scheduled me for a procedure next Saturday (which I hope works, because it's getting very sore).

Anyhow, I'm on pain meds and antibiotics and staying home. Enjoy the gigs tonight, folks...

Coronanoia 3: Corona Virus Versus LAST CHANCE TO ROCK 'N' ROLL for awhile probably

It has become somewhat confusing to know what to do in the face of recent public safety measures. 

There’s a lot to process.

I mean, universities are shutting down larger classes. Disneyland is closed. Tom Hanks and Justin Trudeau and their spouses are undergoing self-quarantine (but not together). I am guessing people who were really looking forward to the Rolling Stones are kind of bummed.

But am I clear on this, this is all in aid of containment? There is the idea still that this virus can be contained and eradicated? Is that the plan? Or are we just prolonging a scenario when everyone in the world gets this new bug, and it keeps coming back…? If we can’t contain it… then what? If we know now that we can’t contain it, are we, what, just giving it our best shot?

No one ever goes to Italy again, or something? Or something more, I don’t know, collapse-of-civilization? What changes are we in the midst of witnessing, and just how temporary are they?

Okay, so, uh, yeah, okay, I can process this. (Do the people who are hoarding toilet paper know something I don’t, or can they at least tell me where I can buy a cheap thermometer?). What are we down here on the lower tiers supposed to be doing, exactly? There’s still lots of people out there shopping – Metrotown was, maybe save Christmas, as full as I’ve seen it… but nowhere fuller than the grocery floor at Walmart, where people were making very large purchases, and there were prominent displays of hand sanitizer described as being 99% something (I couldn’t read the something, because it was in a Chinese character).  

Am I overreacting?  I had a tickle in my throat so I phoned in sick yesterday, and it turned out to be nothing (I'm fine, today), but – I mean, help me out, here, folks: what’s the playbook we’re supposed to be operating from? If I get a bug, and go to work, and spread it… How exactly am I supposed to be practicing social distancing when I work with people all day?

More importantly, how does this all relate to TOMORROW’S SHOW AT THE RICKSHAW? …Or, what, the Dayglos are playing somewhere, too, aren’t they? I am sure there are lots of shows happening, and I am equally sure that after this weekend, there’s not going to be so many. Mo posted on Facebook about how Timbre and Live Nation's decision to pull the plug on concerts are going to affect him. Dig this, the Rickshaw has no shows booked from March 13th – tomorrow night – and March 26th. Shows I had planned to see (Satanic doo wop band Twin Temple, opening for Tiger Army in April!) are cancelled. Just as well I haven’t put any time into interviewing Martin Barre!

Part of me is thinking, ummm, maybe I should stay home tomorrow night, and play it safe, and part of me is thinking, no, fuck that noise, this might be the last night I’ll get to go to a concert in a REALLLLLLY LONG TIME: who knows, maybe I could take in BOTH Sunday Morning and the Dayglos, depending on when bands go onstage…?

One… last… concert…

It’s messing me up. Should I – sorry – stay, or should I go? What is the more rock’n’roll decision? What is the more rational one?  Are we being actually, officially told to not go out for non-essentials? 

I still don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’ll say this, Bruce Wilson: don’t guestlist me. If this is gonna be the last time I get to go to the Rickshaw before the world ends or whatever comes next comes next, I’m gonna pay to get in!

If I go.

(Didja see? monkeys are rioting in the streets of Thailand because a sudden massive drop in tourism means they have no one feeding them treats. Thousands of monkeys, running amok. Shit is messed up). 

Friday, March 13, 2020

Sunday Morning on Saturday Night: a Bruce Wilson interview

Bruce Wilson by Bob Hanham (definitely)

Sunday Morning's new album, Consequence of Love (Side 2), kicks off with a rather dark rocker called "The War Came to Us," which, with repeated warnings that there "ain't much time," seems to fit the apocalyptic, threatened mood of our current world—even though it appears overtly to be about a couple running out of dope in an Arizona motel. But underneath what frontman Bruce Wilson describes as "an obvious drug vibe," thematically, "it’s about a relationship that seems impossible to leave despite how unhealthy it is. I wanted to capture that feeling of being trapped, the claustrophobia of that situation. The line 'We have the rest of our lives—it ain’t much time' speaks to thinking we have all the time in the world to change when in reality that’s just not the case."

Wilson doesn't see it as "particularly apocalyptic," however: "more of basic realization that our time is limited. Fully admitting to my mortality has benefited me greatly. My imminent and unavoidable death is what drives me to make necessary changes in my life and provides me with focus on a daily basis."

Certainly, since the eponymous Sunday Morning debut LP came out in 2017, Wilson has not been wasting time. Besides several Sunday Morning shows—including a highly memorable one I caught at the SBC Cabaret, organized by Billy Hopeless, whom Wilson describes as "incredibly supportive" and possessed of an "enormous heart"— he's been seen ripping into a Dead Boys at a recent Black Halos reunion show; he joined Tom Anselmi of Slow for lead vocals on "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," during Slow's 10-night-stand at the Penthouse; and he's done a few guest appearances with GRRL, a band put together by R.d. Cane, who has directed many of Sunday Morning's videos, like "Come the Rain," "Sick in the City," "1986" and the lead single off the new album, "Breathe." Playing live with GRRL is "always beautiful kinetic chaos," Wilson says. 

Alas, there is one collaborator who will not be with him this time out - Stephen Hamm, Wilson's former bandmate in Tankhog. Hamm "left the project last summer when he decided to focus his attention into his amazing solo project Theremin Man. I’m in awe of what that man can do with such an esoteric instrument. He’s making music that’s both completely original and captivating. I love it!"

Hamm was, however, involved in the recording of Consequence of Love (Side 2). "I started writing the new album with Felix [Fung] out at Little Red Sounds Studio last winter and Hamm came out to join us in the process. He stayed with us through the first part of the recording process and added a tremendous amount of creative talent during that period." Wilson is confident the two will collaborate again in the future: "We support each other fully," he says. 

While I can appreciate Wilson's love of Scott Walker, Leonard Cohen, and Nick Cave - three influences we discuss at length in a past interview, who do come through on many of his songs - I tend to be immediately drawn to his rockers. "I'm in Love" has the swagger of vintage Aerosmith, though their later output has tainted their legacy a bit, and I'm shy to ask Wilson if he's a fan.

I needn't be. "I fucking love Aerosmith!" he exclaims. "Rocks and Toys In The Attic will always be two of my favorite albums. The song 'Rats In The Cellar' is as punk as it gets." But Wilson's own take on the song is that it has "an Alice Cooper vibe—like if he was drinking cough syrup with Rowland S Howard in a Melbourne squat."

Saturday's show at the Rickshaw will feature two noted opening acts, Hunting and Jody Glenham. "I have immense respect for both those artists. The new Hunting album is phenomenal and Jody Glenham is a tremendous talent who works harder than anyone else in this city. It’s going to be great to play live with our new line up too. We recently added Kyle Schick (he most recently played with Dead Soft) on guitar and keyboards and he’s fit into the groove perfectly. We’ve found a sweet spot between order and chaos/ darkness and light that is vital and exhilarating. It’s not often that something like this comes along and I’m very excited to see where this goes."

As Mike Usinger discusses with Wilson in a recent Straight piece, the album is only half of a planned project; Mike writes that "a story-completing Side 1 will be released in the future." Why start with side 2, however? "Good question and my only answer is that we could only afford to record these songs and it just felt like Side 2."

Speaking of the apocalypse, however - with LiveNation and Timbre pulling the plug on concerts left and right, and shows south of the border by artists like Patti Smith getting cancelled or postponed in the name of "social distancing," does Wilson have any thoughts on COVID-19? 

"It's irrelevant to the album but it may not be irrelevant to attendance at the show," he says, but adds that he tries "not to panic about anything... In the grand scheme of things I have little importance (if any), so self-centered fear is a useless expense of energy that could be used for something else much more productive. I don’t see how hoarding food or toiletries is of service to anyone. Obviously this virus needs to be treated seriously and. in regards to the show, anyone who is feeling sick or who has a compromised immune system should stay home. Being sensible and pragmatic through this is paramount."

It doesn't stop him from being excited about the show, or the band. "For the foreseeable future, I’m planning on directing all my time and energy into Sunday Morning. We’re coming together in an incredibly powerful way. It seems like the festivals and shows we had lined up for the summer are going to be cancelled, so we’ll probably spend the time hunkered down in the studio writing our next album. Make the best use of this time as we can."

Sunday Morning plays the Rickshaw Saturday, March 14th; Facebook event page here

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Coronanoia 2: Waking Up With... a Cold?

So last night, I went out, said hi to a friend, flipped through a cool GG Allin book with him, then went down to the Roxy for a bit to see the Imperial and Paranoid Romantic, both featuring drummer Michael Nathanson, whom I interviewed here. Really fun show. Other than having wiped down the computer mouses (mice) and spacebars at public computers at work, I had done nothing different with my day, marvelling at the spreading panic about coronavirus - which my friend likened to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the days of duckin' and coverin'. I felt perfectly healthy. Panic? No: I was thinkin' about a show I planned to go to this weekend (...which it would be irresponsible for me to name, since, who knows, if people think I might be there, they might stay home in droves!) and anticipating a busy day today at work (I'm an English tutor at a school).

This morning, I woke up feeling not so healthy: typical cold-symptom stuff, but enough that it seemed irresponsible to take public transit to work and talk to a dozen or more students. I phoned in sick, and am now in a position to consider firsthand the way the health care system here will impact the spread of the disease. It's kind of like World War Z (the book, not so much the moive) without the zombies: the way each country handles the crisis will be based on their politics, their infrastructure. The US will under-diagnose themselves because of the lack of socialized medicine. Canada, meanwhile, will try to take care of absolutely everyone, so that waiting lists stretch to infinity, while supplies run thinner and thinner.

I mean, it's an interesting thing to contemplate, but it was more fun thinking about it when I didn't have the signs of a cold. I don't think I have it, but I want confirmation that this is so - I want to be tested and reassured, not because I am so worried, but so I can return to work without fear that I am spreading a relatively serious illness. Reasonable, right?

In fact, I'd rather get it early and get it over with, before the entire country turns into a panicky, disorganized, bogged-down shitshow. All I want is a test, so I can say with certainty to people that I am healthy. I don't feel so hot, but it really is far more likely that this is just another round of seasonal illness. It is being said that the antibodies created by the disease only last awhile, and do not give you permanent immunity, but, I mean, if I'm going to try to look on the bright side of things, one is less likely to get sick WITH the antibodies than without, so...

Actually, on the way out to work this morning, my wife heard me say something to this end - "I hope I do have it" - and kind of freaked out, but rest assured, folks, I'm not going out and licking transit handrails, here. It's just that if there's a good chance everyone is going to get this sickness, better to have it in the rearview than the headlights, right? (Help me out here).

Alas, my doctor's office was fully booked. They somewhat obnoxiously don't start answering their phones until well after they are open, so I had to go to the office to inquire in person, whereupon the receptionist lectured me about my not having called ahead, "because we're screening clients." I pointed out that it was not possible for me to call ahead, since they still had their "our office is now closed" message on seven minutes into being open (I had called them before coming).

They didn't seem moved by my retort.

I have since then spent about half an hour on 811 (busy, alternating between a signal and a recorded male voice telling me that I should try my call later). With that not working, I called Burnaby Hospital - because I don't relish the idea of waiting in an ER for five hours. If that's what it takes to get tested, it's almost not worth it - I mean, I might feel fine in a couple days, right?

They couldn't help me. They had no information about wait times at the ER and suggested I call the Corona Virus Hotline (yes, there is such a thing; one of the questions they ask is who gave you the number). They have a loop of muzak periodically interrupted by a female voice saying call volumes are high, but after fifteen minutes or so, I was connected to someone. I explained that I work with the public, that quite a few of my students are from China, South Korea, and Iran, and that I am concerned more about possibly spreading the virus than having it myself. I was told that I should find out if I have a fever, first and foremost: fever, cough, and difficulty breathing are the three most significant symptoms, though of course one may be asymptomatic for some time and still have the virus. Apparently if one has a fever, it can help expedite procedures like getting seen at the emergency ward; the next step, if I am confirmed as having the virus, seems to be to call the province and report it.

No one is telling me to self-isolate unless the symptoms get severe, because, again, we're operating from the assumption that this is a cold. With only a mild cough, and a few aches and pains... I start to consider my options: I mean, it's enough to keep me away from work, but I can get back to work sooner if I can confirm that I don't have this. To confirm I do or don't have this, I should know if I have a fever, but there's no thermometer here to be found, and the app store reviews for alleged "body temperature" apps suggest most or all are garbage, that don't actually take your temperature.

There's a lot of thumb work as I scroll through articles. What do you do if you think you have a cold, but can't be sure?

I decide, since I need lunch anyhow, that I should go try to acquire a thermometer. It's not exactly self-isolating behaviour but again, it's probably just a cold. I will refrain from breathing at anyone or touching things. I walk to the mall.

Guess what? Walmart is sold out of thermometers. Shoppers' Drug Mart has exactly one left: it costs $70. I am not going to spend $70 on a thermometer.

Okay. I head back home. I listen to a bit of music, then opt to go to bed. I feel barely anything is wrong with me - but that's what the first day of a cold is often like. I sleep, and soak the pillowcases with sweat, and wake up wondering, "Do I have a fever?"

Shit got real! I am now on the "mildly panicked" side of the panicked-or-not equation. I hope it doesn't get too irritating for my wife!

Meantime, the funniest thing I have seen today on Facebook, courtesy the great Bob Petterson (apparently it started out on Dangerous Minds earlier today).

Wednesday, March 11, 2020


Right, so... concerts cancelled left and right... my wife has a conference in the States upcoming that might get postponed... there are petitions at UBC calling for face-to-face instruction to be suspended. Friends have gotten afraid to shake hands; others are staying home. And the hell of it is, I'm half-convinced that at least some of the panic is because people are excited about this: ooh, apocalypse! Finally! All the stresses and pressures and desires to panic over the state of the world suddenly have a focal point - a sickness that, while obviously very virulent, is described as being akin to a cold or flu.

Other than washing my hands a bit more often and taking advantage of the hand sanitizer at work (and wiping down computer mouses - or is it mice? - with sani-wipes once all the students are gone home), my normal life hasn't been affected much at all. I'm just not that afraid. I don't care for the flu but I'm not all that unhealthy. I'm much much more afraid of the panic that seems to be breaking loose around the world. Suddenly two old quotes that I have often heard - the Chinese curse, "may you live in interesting times" and, who was it, Truman's admonishing that "we have nothing to fear but fear itself" actually have meaning for me. Doesn't mean I'm gonna fight people for jumbo packs of toilet paper, though.

If Tom Hanks dies, the world is gonna lose its fuckin' shit.

Monday, March 09, 2020

RIP Max von Sydow

My top Max von Sydow films, quickly before I have to leave for work:

1. Joubert, Three Days of the Condor: a dispassionate European hitman who goes from enemy to (sort of) ally of the main character simply because his employer changes, while he himself undergoes no change of heart whatsoever. Probably the first film I ever saw him in, as a kid watching late night TV in the 1970's. 

2. Dr. Paul Novotny, Dreamscape: a silly but very entertaining SF movie about warring psychics, it was lent added amusement value because I first saw it around the time that Max was in competition for an Oscar with Christopher Plummer, who plays a bad guy. You can see that von Sydow is having fun with the role.

3. Mortenhoe, Death Watch: a moving, character-driven SF film about surveillance and the responsibilities of image-making, with a hell of a cast, also including Romy Schneider, Harvey Keitel, and Harry Dean Stanton (and an early role for Robbie Coltrane).  

4. Andreas Winkelman, A Passion, aka The Passion of Anna: the English language title makes no sense, since the film is using the term "a passion" in the sense of "a passion play," showing a sort of everyday crucifixion, and it is not Anna, in the film, who gets crucified: it is a figurative crucifixion, and it happens to von Sydow's character, Winkelman. Bergman wears his sadism on his sleeve in this, tortures his characters somewhat gleefully, and even casts one Erland Josephson to represent him within the film, so he can be cruel to a depiction of himself, as well. I used to love this film, especially if I was home alone and having a drink. Not sure how I'd feel about it now - haven't been in the mood for Bergman in years, and think I would find it pretentiously self-pitying - but von Sydow is great in it! 

...after that it gets difficult. I really like the first twenty minutes or so of The Exorcist, where Max squares off with Pazuzu in Iraq, but find the film ultimately silly in a bad way. I sometimes watch the first twenty minutes or so then shut it off. I loved von Sydow in The Virgin Spring, Bergman's adaptation of a Swedish folktale that ended up inspiring The Last House on the Left. I really liked von Sydow in The Quiller Memorandum and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Pelle the Conqueror, too. Didn't care much about a lot of the films he was in later in his career but enjoyed watching him in them. 

Rest in peace, Max von Sydow!

Saturday, March 07, 2020

The first time I saw the Rebel Spell...

Just posted this on Facebook:
What was the first time you saw the Rebel Spell? (I realize some of you go back with Todd Serious longer than that, so you can tell a different story if you want). Me, I was going to see DOA and the Furies at Richards on Richards, I think in 2007. I was excited to see DOA with Rampage, for the first time, and tho' I had seen Chris Arnett with a version of the Shades, I had never seen the Furies (whom I had written about). I had never heard of the Rebel Spell. I fell in love with what they were doing instantly and was blown away that they were selling Days of Rage for ONLY FIVE BUCKS, which was a great idea, a great deal, and a totally righteous thing to do morslly. Made me want to write about them, too. That album had just come out, but it was this song, off their first album, that sunk the hook - especially the lyrics, which are very easy to appreciate in the clip below. Hearing it live sent chills up my spine. It still weirds me out that Todd died on my birthday.
That's all I have time for - I gotta get on with birthday stuff! - but hey, Todd, how you doing? Is any part of you, contrary to your intuitions, still conscious, still aware? I kinda wish you had died some other day (or not at all), but you pretty much guaranteed that I won't forget about you this way, though it's usually like, an hour or two into my being the birthday boy that I remember. Thanks for trying so hard to live a good life, man, and for inspiring others, too.  

Friday, March 06, 2020

COVID-19: Weird Panic Spreads

We'd heard stories online, but my wife and I didn't actually realize how panicked the general population was about the corona virus until we hit a Walmart in Surrey the other week. We were coming home from something and decided to stop to get a few groceries, as per the advice that came out to lay in a bit of an emergency supply of food in the event of a quarantine or any possible disruptions in the market. We both tend towards a more minimal approach to keeping a pantry - while we do have, at any given point, enough perishables to keep us for a few days, and a shitload of spices and condiments, we don't actually have a great number of canned or dried goods put aside; so we thought we might rectify that, just in case we're stuck in the house sick for a couple of weeks, you know? Which is about either of us were afraid of, at that point.

It was very strange to see: at this particular Walmart, the rice section was nearly empty. There were a few bags here and there, and the panic-buyers apparently didn't have a thing for MinuteRice, because there was plenty of that; but otherwise, the rice shelves were 85% stripped of product. Other sections, too, were visibly depleted - the beans, say. At first we wondered if maybe this was just a badly-stocked Walmart, if maybe they were just waiting for a late delivery, or if the rice was low because of disruptions in shipping out of China or something; but turning to social media, we saw people posting similar things elsewhere, about a spreading level of paranoia and resultant panic buying in big box stores around Vancouver. Not EVERYONE had signed on board - Chris Walter posted something observing that it's a cold, people (I don't think he used the words "for fuck's sake" but that was kind of implied), telling readers to just cough in his face and get it over with. But depleted aisles were seen by everyone, and sometimes of products you wouldn't expect. Robin Bougie just put up something kind of hilarious - about supplies of toilet paper and bottled water getting snarfled up en masse, despite a) there being plenty of ways to clean yer arse without toilet paper and b) no suggestion that our water supply will be compromised ("panic correctly!" he told readers - which by Bougie means laying in some canned goods and maybe hand sanitizers). 

So people are really afraid, which I guess makes sense, given the way the news media have been ratcheting up the tension. It puts the panic over SARS to shame (which I recall quite clearly, since I was teaching at an ESL school which had students from affected regions of China; about the net result of our fretting then was that a couple of those students were advised to self-quarantine, and our bathrooms got decorated with "how to wash your hands" posters.

Just to be clear, then - as some of you out there prepare for an economic breakdown, or maybe a zombie apocalypse: I am simply not that worried. We're gonna go to shows, we're gonna go to movies, we're going to maybe wash our hands a bit more than we used to and use hand sanitizers after we get off transit... but we're just not afraid. Those of you in Hazmat suits out there... get a grip.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Coco Montoya at the Rickshaw

I don't really know my contemporary blues all that well. Most of the blues I listen to is the really old-time Delta stuff like Charley Patton, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, or Son House. I do appreciate some later blues like Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, or the ragtime gospel of the Reverend Gary Davis, and I have a few Chicago blues albums in my collection but when it gets past about 1965, I don't really know what's what. I don't know Albert King from Albert Collins. I've occasionally spun albums by them, but I don't presently own any. And when you start mixing the blues with soul or R&B, which I know even less about... well, it's not exactly in my comfort zone, interviewing musicians like that.

Like Coco Montoya, for instance, in town this Sunday. I like what he does - it sounds like it would be really fun to dance to, lively and upbeat and expressive. I am more into that other branch of the blues that split off into stoner doom and bluesy psychedelia, am more inclined towards Black Sabbath than John Mayall, but I can definitely enjoy what someone like Montoya does.

But interview him? Actually, I tried to see if other people would take the article; I wanted to help get the show press, but I didn't really want to do it myself.

The thing I wrote for the Straight site worked out okay, though, I thought. It ended up pretty brief - Montoya was getting to leave on tour, so there wasn't much time for us to interact - but I got a few questions in, and tried to make them questions that he hasn't been asked in every other interview I've read.

In fact, some of those interviews are much, much better than mine. The best I found, the most interesting, is from Blues Blast magazine. Read mine first, for an appetizer, but their interview is a helluva lot better than mine.

I have no outtakes for you - save one. My wife had been reminded of Dave Alvin by Coco's music. I didn't hear it, myself - maybe in the guitar, but not the vocals, at all; but I could hear some of Phil Alvin in his voice. So for the heck of it, I asked, since Montoya is located in L.A., if he'd ever crossed paths with Dave and Phil Alvin. He replied that, "Being an LA native, my path has crossed with Dave and Phil Alvin since 1980. I don't know them well but I respect their music."

That's really all I have for you, but check out some of Coco Montoya's music. With Paul Pigat opening, how can this possibly NOT be a great night?

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Film Club: Microcosmos

I love a good bug documentary. Before I became a diehard fan of the microphotography of Ken Middleham - who shot bugs for Bug, Phase IV, The Hellstrom Chronicle, and Damnation Alley - before I even realized how much I could enjoy a good nature documentary - I had a seriously eye-opening experience of snails, dung beetles, dragonflies, and other small-sized garden creatures, blown up to huge size, when I caught Microcosmos on screen in Vancouver in 1996. It's really pleasing that the Cinematheque has chosen it as one of two movies with family appeal to screen for Earth Day 2020 (the other, Ferngully, I have not seen and cannot comment on). It is part of a "Film Club" series designed to get kids out to theatres (with their parents, of course). The Cinematheque program promises free popcorn and a "film club" badge for those aged 13, or younger, admission for whom is a mere $6 (adults pay $10). There will be other fun stuff for kids, as well, it seems, though adults will appreciate the film just fine, too: it's a beautifully shot, entertainingly structured doc, with several scenes (snails making love, dung beetles rolling balls of dung) having attained a sort of cult status (you've probably seen them on Youtube). March 16th...

Also note, I have a hand in a screening coming up at the Cinematheque in April... more to come on that. It's another favourite of mine, vastly more relevant now than when we first started discussing the screening, but it's pretty far from Microcosmos in tone... so we'll come back to it later!

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Doug & the Slugs: keeping it alive

Just for the record: Doug & the Slugs cooked last night. Ted Okos was utterly marvelous as a frontman. He was cheerful, expressive, professional, and witty, and had a pretty entertaining sense of physical comedy to go along with his vocals: my favourite moment was when the Slugs were doing  "Embarrassed" and he pantomimed trying to cover himself up as he sang "though I may be naked I just don't feel foolish," which was really cute and endearing. And his voice really is uncannily close to Doug's - not 100% the same (it's just slightly higher and smoother, not really featuring that much of what I described in the interview as Doug's "gravel croon;" there's a little gravel there, but much, uh, finely ground, if you follow me). He kept close to a stool, since he was having some back issues, but he managed to be an extremely watchable and engaging frontman throughout - which was really odd, in a way, because even though he was the one guy up there who WASN'T on Cognac & Bologna or Wrap It! or so forth, you really did want to watch Okos during the songs. Whatever silliness Simon Kendall got up to, as he clowned around onstage with his keytar; however snazzily Richard Baker was dressed (in a gold jacket and funky shoes and a sequined Slug brooch made for him by his wife); however cool it was that this was the original band doing their thing (which they did with much more conviction than that lineup at the Viper Room that I mentioned in the article; those guys weren't bad, in fact, but they just weren't on this level)... it was Okos that sold it. Man deserves some sorta medal for being able to do that, for taking on the mantle of someone else's material and not only doing it well, but doing it so that he holds your attention as a performer in his own right. And for persistent naysayers - the "no Doug no Slugs" camp, you've really gotta:

a) check it out for yourself, if you haven't, whereupon you will admit that Okos does a great job (the only thing that I didn't like, he changed "in the midst of it all" to "at the end of it all" for "To Be Laughing." I have attachments to every quirky turn of Bennett's phrasing on those first two albums, where the wit of his lyrics is over half the draw. But that was ONE LINE. The only other change I notice that he made, replacing "RCMP" with "NDP" in "Drifting Away," was actually pretty funny and relevant!).   

b) acknowledge that there is no one else bringing attention to Doug & the Slugs at the moment. These guys are keeping CDs in print (they had Slugcology 101 and Cognac & Bologna at the merch table). They're keeping Doug Bennett's legacy ALIVE, which also means they're keeping monies flowing, by whatever exact mechanisms are at work, to Doug's family, and keeping it possible that there might be some future release of live or otherwise previously-unreleased music (which I am told there is quite a bit of!). Without these live shows, you'd still hear the odd later Slugs song on soft rock radio, but goofy bits of brilliance like "Wrong Kind of Right" (which they played last night!) would fade in the public eye. While the other Slugs are still around, it's terrific that they're keeping this music fresh and real for new listeners and old fans. It is not Doug Bennett up there, but it WAS his songs that were being sung and enjoyed and danced to. How can that be bad? 

The one annoyance last night had nothing to do with the band, but ended up having a kind of surprisingly happy resolution. At one point, I was right at the front of the stage, and a guy said "I just want to get my beer." There were a couple of cans on the stage, so I let him past me (despite picking one up and seeing it was empty) and he USURPED my spot. This dude a) stank, with long greasy unwashed hair and what might have been an undercurrent of alcohol and tobacco); b) was either a bad enough actor or a desperate enough drunk that he kept taking pulls on the cans in front of him, one of which, I had confirmed, was fucking empty; c) sang along loudly right next to me through a couple of songs, despite not having much of a singing voice; and finally, was d) repeatedly sticking a camera out in front of him, like it was somehow important that (despite numerous professionals present) he personally get as many shots as possible of the band. The pros had already taken their cameras away, observing the usual three-song limit for photographers, but this guy just carried on. I mean, I can understand whipping off a few pics with your cellphone, say if you want to blog about the band or post something on social media - it's impossible to resist - but for this guy, who probably doesn't even have a Facebook account, to  be waving his big bulky camera around through several songs, like it somehow would profit anyone other than himself if he took 100 photos of the show... ergh. It was one reason I ended up focused on Okos, so much, actually, because I was trying to block the stinky drunk camera guy from my view. He had called altogether too much attention to himself, and I was resenting how distracting he'd been, and my resentments were taking away from the fun I would otherwise have been happening...

...when something kinda weird happened: the band played one of those lost and forgotten Doug & the Slugs songs from 41 years ago, "When the Heat Takes My Faith."  This is a song that most people have never heard before. It's on that Rohan's tape on Youtube, but it was never officially recorded, and, being written before the band had actual albums out there to play songs from, was likely dropped from Doug & the Slugs sets in favour of their recorded material maybe in the early 1980's. It was fun tune - Kendall poked fun at its reggae stylings by describing it as a "WASPafarian" song - but pretty much fresh to me. But the old, stinky, distracting drunk beside me? 

He knew the song, apparently. He must have seen the band back in the 1970's. I kind of forgave him everything when I realized that he was singing along. 

Glad you had a fun time, stinky drunk guy. So did I, and so did my wife, and so did a maybe-not-quite-sold-out-but-still-pretty-damn-packed Commodore. Thanks, guys, for having done this! I can now remember seeing Doug without any real Slugs, and the Slugs without Doug, and try to jigsaw-puzzle the two experiences together in the band so that it almost feels like I saw the band in their glories. To say nothing against Doug - a man of style, wit, and greatness - last night kinda put the Viper Room show to shame. 

Oh, hey, Simon: you mentioned that you had never asked Ted if he'd seen the original band? He did, but not the "real," full band - he opened for one of the later incarnations, back in the 1990's - I think he said something about Tales from Terminal City, so you and Steve might have been in there...