Saturday, June 27, 2020

In which I dream of Peter Stampfel

There are few living American musicians whose body of work I revere more than Peter Stampfel, of the Fugs, Holy Modal Rounders, Bottlecaps, and lately a host of bands, from the Velocity Rounders to the Atomic Meta-Pagans to the Worm All-Stars to the Deposit Returners to the Ether Frolic Mob (most of which are sorta technically backing bands, as in Peter Stampfel and..., and some of which feature his daughter Zoe). If I had free tickets to see Bob Dylan, but could pay $100 to see Peter Stampfel across the street the same night, I would pay the $100 to see Peter Stampfel - that's how much I revere him (though in a somewhat irreverent, casual way, but damn does his music bring me joy, you know?). I think I would also (shh) choose Stampfel over Eugene Chadbourne, though part of that is because I have never seen Stampfel and have seen Eugene a dozen or more times. Though I suspect I will in fact never see him perform live, I had the great privilege of interviewing him at some length and have occasionally interacted with him since, and am in the process of catching up on his discography, since it turns out he's been rather crazily productive since that interview, putting out a dozen or more albums since the last one I bought off him (Dook of the Beatniks, from 2009), and collaborating with everyone from Jeffrey Lewis (naturally) to Shelley Hirsch (!!!). You can read about some of these albums on Robert Christgau's site, where it becomes quickly evident that Christgau is a fan of the Rounders and Stampfel too; or you can order the most recent of Stampfel's solo records via Don Giovanni Records, like this one:


Anyhoo, I dreamed of Peter Stampfel last night. I was (in the dream) at a house party in Seattle where Peter was performing. It was very casual - a large living room with a small, relaxed crowd of people. To everyone's surprise, Peter rode in on a horse - a white one - wearing cavalry gear and maybe brandishing a sword, while performing Johnny Cash's "Big River" (which is actually in Peter's repertoire, though the horse-uniform-and-sword stuff is not). This part I mostly emailed to Peter on waking, since I thought it might amuse him; but I didn't tell him the whole dream - that I spent most of the concert distracted by my cell phone, really, really wanting to make a Youtube video of his set but not being able to find the "video" function, because my phone had been updated and everything was messed up; or that after the concert, I bought some records from him, but as I was walking away down the alley behind the building - explaining to a homeless person about Going Nowhere Fast - I realized that I had forgotten to ask Peter to sign my records. That was imperative, so I ran back to the building, got inside, but - before finding Peter, decided I really needed to pee. I went to an elaborately decorated, expansive, kinda like Elizabethan-or-something bathroom and began peeing in the first receptacle that I could, which, alas, turned out to be a small, half-filled, decorative antique bathtub. Why there was water in the bathtub I could not say, but as I stood with a vaulting arch of urine splashing into it, I realized I was probably going to have to find a way to drain the water out of the tub, so no one, like, bathed in my pee. This, alas, would be contemplated by the lack of a drain in the tub - I was going to have to pour it out manually, somehow, and this was going to delay my quest to get my albums signed.

Then I woke up, needing to urinate. I hope Peter Stampfel is still writing his memoirs and that he's included a hilarious anecdote about an enormous booger he had hanging out of his nose at one point, which he posted on Facebook, asking us to support him against his wife's opinion that the story was in bad taste. It was funny! Then again, I just posted about a pee dream.

You can stream the whole, crazed cornucopia of The Ordovician Era here.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

WTF: Samsung worldwide blu-ray player crash?

(Update below).

Okay, so on Thursday around 7pm, I was halfway through watching a blu-ray. Machine - a Samsung Home Theatre J4500 - was working just fine. Then I stopped the movie, did something else, and came back to it around 7:30 - and it was screwed, going through an endless cycle of stops and starts, so that as soon as you powered it on, you could barely get the screen to stay stable, as it immediately started going from the home screen to seeming to select the "photos"option to powering down to returning to the home screen in an endless manic loop, each screen lingering for less than a second. Turning it on and off didn't work. Tried unplugging it, attempted a hard restart (which I couldn't even make happen, as it cycled from screen to screen): the machine seemed to be busted.

I took this for an isolated incident and tried to get a sense of what my options were. I didn't want to have to buy a whole new home theatre system, since, you know, the speakers are all fine and in place. Spent this afternoon making inquiries of Samsung Canada and London Drugs (where Erika and I bought the system, a few years ago). Some suggestions, nothing very exciting.

So I looked online and soon discovered that on Thursday night, my time, apparently all over the world, Samsung players all went on the fritz in exactly the same way. The discussions I've found are most prevalent in the UK, but there are similar reports from Germany, the United States, Brazil, Toronto... a vast number, if not all, Samsung blu-ray players have gone crazy in the same way at the same time.

People are speculating that it's the result of a some sort of update or patch from Samsung that has had unintended effects. I have no idea. Can there be viruses that do this? Some sort of industrial sabotage, maybe from, say, North Korea? I don't understand these matters enough to do anything but speculate.  What's most interesting is that the Samsung Canada rep I spent half an hour on the phone with earlier today apparently hadn't heard about this yet.

So hey, folks - is your Samsung blu-ray player on the fritz? Is it on the fritz in the way described above? Welcome to the club. There is apparently a Change.org petition to pressure Samsung into taking action. I have no idea if that's necessary, but it's definitely one way to make sure Samsung knows that there's a problem, here. (They have said that they're investigating, apparently).

I guess it's all for the better I haven't been using streaming sites very much lately, since it may be awhile until I can watch my blu's and DVD's again!

One week later: update: 

So I've now written customer service, who didn't let on there was a global problem (though I mentioned it, linking to one of the tech news articles about this crash). With no help there - they just suggested I get it repaired - and no updates on any of the sites I've seen, I called the main Samsung 1-800 line and had a chat with a support person, who sounded maybe like she was in a call center in Mexico. I said at first that I was "one of the people affected by the Samsung blu-ray player crash," and she said she didn't know what I meant; I then explained the symptoms and she told me that, ah yes, she was aware of this problem. (I'm not sure if she had been being coy or thick). After several minutes of delay (where presumably the troubleshooter was going over the script to use), she told me that Samsung was aware of the problem and working on it, that there was no timeline for a fix, and that no one knew what had gone wrong, none of which is new or informative.

End of week one without a blu-ray player. Erika and I are streaming The Man in the High Castle.  Should keep us going for awhile. I frankly would be surprised if Samsung actually took action - they're no longer making blu-ray players, so there is no real motivation for them to do anything, except, of course, the suspicion this failure will cast on EVERY OTHER SAMSUNG PRODUCT. I will wait another week or so, then start looking at my other options...

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

RIP Aunt Jemima

I was making pancakes recently and wondering about Aunt Jemima.

I have fond brand recognition for Aunt Jemima - it's a product that has been around since my childhood. My parents were more likely to buy the syrup and make pancakes from scratch, but I vividly recall her smiling face on the bottle from back when, kinda like the Quaker Oats fella (same company, by the by). I actually recall being troubled by it, confused by it as a child, though I'm not quite sure I could put my finger on why it was disturbing to me back then.

As a married adult, I generally prefer healthier pancake mixes - Coyote, say - but for Erika, Aunt Jemima pancakes have a comfort-food status, so we've been buying them occasionally. Like I say, I was making some for breakfast last week, while in America people were rioting about systematic racism, and wondering about the brand. How has it gotten a free pass?

I mean, Aunt Jemima looks like she might be a slave. A happy, servile one - a positive image, I guess,  if you are a member of the "owner" class, but one that serves as a reminder for most people not only that once in America people owned other people, and had a pretty definite idea what a "good slave" might look like: basically, as far as women are concerned, Aunt Jemima was it.

I figured that maybe there was some history I was unaware of that explained the continued existence of the brand. I mean, I had no idea who the actual person on the pancake box was. I sometimes have an all-purpose Caribbean spice mix on the shelf with the brand Auntie Bev's, and I'm pretty sure I've met the actual Auntie Bev at a Caribbean festival in Maple Ridge, selling her stuff; but I doubted very much that the woman on the box (or bottle) of Aunt Jemima's was, for instance, a businesswoman who came up with a good pancake mix and marketed it. Maybe there was some other excuse for the brand's persistence?

Turns out, no. The history of the character goes back to minstrel shows. The Wiki suggests that the original Aunt Jemima character - not associated with pancakes at the time - may even have been a white man in blackface (!). Even the first actress to play her and lend her face to the brand, Nancy Green, was born into slavery. So there's good reason to view Aunt Jemima exactly as she seems: a racist caricature of an acclimatized, happy slave.

Of course, I read this morning that after 130 years, the brand is finally being retired. Erika and I had a fast pancake breakfast in her honour. 

Since Quaker Oats likes to use faces on its products, apparently - I wonder who Aunt Jemima's replacement will be? Will Quaker Oats replace it with a less fraught image of happy servility, like housekeeper Alice from The Brady Bunch, perhaps? That image still speaks of a time - the one we live in, as a matter of fact - when some people have so much wealth they can hire others to do the cooking for them, while other people have so little wealth they might gladly take this job, and find a way to be happy in it. Maybe they would be wise to avoid any class implications, and find a face and name not in any way associated with actual kitchen help...?

Well past time for a re-brand, in any case. Reading about this this morning, I discover there is an actual book on the topic: Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima. Or you can just go read the Wikipedia page.
\
RIP, Aunt Jemima.

Something Something Ostrich: a strange time to be alive

Fauci is quoted somewhere in a headline today observing that people keep saying a second wave is coming while we're still in the first wave... At the same time, almost, as Trump is saying that the increased number of cases is due to an increased amount of testing.

A friend put a comment about that on Facebook - does that mean that if I throw away my bathroom scale, I can eat all the pasta I want? - and was horrified to discover that it drew comments of its own from a FB friend who, apparently, was a previously closeted Trump supporter.

I do not have any love for the man, but dear God, people mocking him for implying that all we have to do is stop testing and the number of cases will go down... he didn't actually MEAN that, did he? People are being unfair here, RIGHT? Please tell me he really isn't THAT stupid, people are just being uncharitable in their interpretations...?

Just now I read a bit of a credible article someone had on Facebook on how Trump might win the next election in the States. Four more years of this? Some people really want that?

(I'm not going to even get into the part about the riots and so forth. Keep that border closed, please, folks!)

Meanwhile, the playground outside my window that for two months was roped off has reopened and is full of kids by day... there are school announcements and children's voices in the playground and the sounds of basketballs bouncing off pavement, while I still work at home during the day because my workplace (also a school, and not for young children) has deemed it unsafe to reopen at capacity just yet.

There's a certain amount of cognitive dissonance created by such things.

And yet, there I am, too - back out in the world, poking about thrift stores that are opened, shopping at record stores... my wife and I have eaten out half a dozen times - like, not on a park bench but inside restaurants... The mall is open again, even though the world is not markedly safer than when it was shut. Sometimes I put a mask on, but more to protect other people, in case I have it, than myself, because I don't think my mask WILL protect me much.

But, like, there's still a virus out there, folks. It's not under control. We may be a bit better prepared to handle it, but... the easing of restrictions does not mean that everything is safe again, you realize?

Like, I feel the strong desire to be back to normal too, but also a fear that that's partially about denial. And the desire for the comforts it affords: something something ostrich. (What was it wendythirteen said on FB - something about "fecal ostriches?" But all in caps, of course). (Wait, no, I remember now, it was "rectal ostriches").

Speaking of Wendy, Mr. Chi Pig was briefly back in the ICU, I gather, by the way. Seems to have stabilized, but no visitors, because COVID.

I see there's a petition that Mo put online pressing the government to allow venues to reopen for concerts. I sure do miss shows at the Rickshaw, but cue the eternal voice of Sir Laurence Olivier in my head: "Is it safe?" I actually am hesitating.

Then on the other hand, I know that there's a show (somewhere - pardon me if I don't say where) this Friday. I might go. I am not mentioning the what or where of it lest it get anyone in trouble, but even without this consideration, I would be tempted to not say or do anything to get other people to go to it, because, for once, I WANT the crowd to be really, really small for this show. (Sorry, gang!). If it's small, it's safe to go, right?

It's a confusing time to be alive.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Tales from the Cave Part Two now online


The Cave sounds like it was a pretty cool venue. Never went there myself, but I've collected stories from people who played the Cave for two features from Montecristo now. Here's part one, and here's part two! Thanks to everyone who contributed (but especially bev davies, Rob Frith and Aaron Chapman).

Friday, June 12, 2020

Scratching a TAD itch: Who the hell was Dick Johnson, anyway?


I interviewed Tad Doyle, of my all-time favourite grunge band TAD, a few years ago for a German magazine; the English version of that article eventually ran on my blog. I knew from the outset that Tad was more interested in talking about Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, so I didn't try very hard to come up with good TAD questions - most of which probably would have been answered in the course of the fairly authoritative Tad documentary, anyhow, or in books like Grunge Is Dead. But if Tad had wanted to talk TAD, I would have surely come around to the question: Who the hell was Dick Johnson, anyway? (And why can't I find his book?) 

Understand, I have heard about Dick Johnson in a few places - for example, on the back of TAD's 1989 opus God's Balls, which I have owned in the original a couple of times, and actually presently have three versions of (original LP, the reissued/ remastered LP, and the shortened version on the original pressing of the Salt Lick CD). Flip over to the back cover of that first pressing and read it with me:




I can't track down every reference to Dick Johnson I've heard, but I can say for sure that that was the first: "This record is lovingly dedicated to convicted felon Dick Johnson." And then there's also this fantastic Pussy Galore song, off my first and still-favourite, Pussy Galore album, 1989's Dial M. for Motherfucker, called "Dick Johnson," Whatta song! Whoever this Dick Johnson guy was, he must be pretty impressive to be the chorus of a song that rocks THAT hard, on an album that looks like THIS:


I also had read, back in the late '80's/ early '90's (but before Nevermind broke and ruined it all for me) mention elsewhere about a suppressed book, called something like, Let's Blow Up the Heads of Today's Youth, that was what had gotten Johnson in legal trouble. Someone else I was heavily into back in 1989 - was it on a Sonic Youth lyric sheet, an issue of Forced Exposure, or some other TAD or Sub/Pop related project that I no longer have kicking around? - had quoted from the book, riffing, I gather, on something Dragnet-related, saying "Marijuana is the flame. LSD is the fuse. Heroin is the bomb." Or something like that. There may have even been mention of a Dick Johnson Legal Defense Fund on someone's album somewhere.

But as notorious as Dick Johnson apparently was, at no point in my life have I ever been able to FIND A COPY OF THAT BOOK. And, I mean, I'm pretty good at finding books. I've owned everything from Cormac McCarthy first editions, some worth hundreds of dollars, to signed Patricia Highsmith - or signed Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Paul Bowles, and Charles Bukowski, if you prefer. Even semi-suppressed books like Klaus Kinski's grotesque, rapey memoir, All I Need is Love, or, for instance, Mindfuckers (AKA Mindfucters), a hard to find book about Charles Manson, Mel Lyman, and "the rise of acid fascism" have graced my shelves at various points. Eventually I sold all of that stuff off (or, in the case of Mindfuckers, traded it for a Monkey Warfare "I fuck the man" t-shirt from Reg Harkema, who was doing Manson research for Leslie My Name is Evil.)  I wonder if Lemmy ever saw the cover of this book?


But if Dick Johnson ever actually published a book about blowing up the heads of today's youth with drugs, I have never seen it, never been able to find it on eBay, on Abebooks, etc. Occasionally, during those odd nights when I find myself awakened at 3am, and decide to burn off excess brain-energy online before going back to bed at 6am, it's the sort of thing I search for information about. I mean, that's what the internet is for, right? - scratching old itches at 3:30 in the morning?  I did a search of Abebooks and Google the other night, in exactly those circumstances, and the only reference to this particular Dick Johnson that I could find was a Pussy Galore interview, where Bob Bert (who also drummed on Sonic Youth's Bad Moon Rising) explains:
Pussy Galore did a tour of the west coast with Tad from Seattle opening on what was their very first tour. They had a friend come along whose job was to find pot in every town and his name was Dick Johnson. I think Jon got a kick out of the fact that his first and last name were both names for a penis. That song is musically based around Neil's killer guitar riff.
That's it, though. No legal defense, no mention of a suppressed book, so... what the fuck?

I wrote Tad. Tad, who still I guess doesn't want to talk about TAD, told his web manager or someone to write me back and put me in touch with Kurt Danielson, former TAD bassist, who could give a fuller answer than he could. There was a tiny bit of back and forth, and then suddenly Kurt was filling in the blanks for me.


Kurt Danielson, 2019, by Alma Saucedo-Valadez

Here is what Kurt wrote back!

Hi Allan,

Well, it's a rather long story, but I'll condense it down into its essential elements. Dick Johnson - aka Rich Johnson - is my former brother in law. He used to be our Squee Master on tour; that is, he was in charge of scoring weed in every town along our tour itinerary. During our first ever tour, with Pussy Galore, Jon Spencer met Dick and admired his name so much that he wrote a song about him, as you know. To build on the myth that was quickly coalescing around the mysterious persona of Dick Johnson, we created a fictional identity for him, including a controversial and transgressive book, and we perpetuated this myth in the Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears documentary, claiming that this non-existent book had landed him in legal difficulty and that all the proceeds from the sale of the DVD would go to his legal defense fund. In reality, Rich is an English teacher and a father, and he has no legal problems stemming from said book, because it doesn't exist.

I'm sorry if the reality of the situation disappoints you, but we simply couldn't resist the impulse to weave a myth around our friend, who is a good-natured fellow, and I appreciate your interest. Many people have wondered about this mysterious book, but you are the only one to have actually formally inquired about it. You deserve kudos for asking, because it was a joke that was meant to provoke discussion, and yet little real discussion occurred at the time the DVD came out, and that surprised us. I'm pleased that someone finally thought enough about it to ask.

As for what I'm up to musically, I play bass in several bands, including Mythological Horses, which worked with Tad as the engineer, producer and mastering engineer on our last record (YYYMF). We'll be working with Tad again for the next record. Another band I play with, Purple Strange (which features Jack Endino, Ron Rudzitis, Matt Vandenberghe and Jared Stroud in addition to myself) just finished a new record that will be available soon (produced, engineered and mastered by Jack and recorded at Strange Earth Studios). Ron and I have another band called Vaporland, which has a CD out already (also on Strange Earth). We're planning another for the near future, and we plan to work with Tad on that one. I also play bass on records by Sky Cries Mary (Thieves and Sirens, produced by Jack) and Nerd Table (Nerd Table vs The Galactic Turkey, mastered by Tad). Those records are out there, on the net, if you can find them.

Cheers, and thanks again for your interest,

Kurt

Note, Kurt: I'm far from disappointed to discover that this book never existed! I'm totally amused that I have probably, since 1989, devoted at least three hours of my life trying to find it (usually in fifteen minute segments on Abebooks and eBay). And now I learn not only that this is not about my failure to locate a rarity, but that I'm the first person to actually pursue the question!

BTW, if I have this right, Kurt isn't on this Mythological Horses song, but it has a pretty great little rock video. Check it out!

Saturday, June 06, 2020

A spring trip to Pitt Lake

Erika and I took a drive this afternoon out towards Pitt Lake. We didn't quite get there - the last leg of the road was fenced off - but we found an access to dykes around Widgeon Marsh. I don't really have anything to say of moment, but we did get some very nice photos of our day. Here are the best of them.
























A new profile pic


Friday, June 05, 2020

America is exhausting

I want to write something topical and relevant about what has been going on in the US (or teach a discussion skills class again where we can talk about "Cop Killer"). But I just don't have it in me. I feel like I have to say something, but... errrgh...

People sometimes try to characterize what living here above the United States is like - the most common variant is that it's like having a nice apartment above a meth lab - but it's more tiring than that, because,  you know, there are things about the 'States (and plenty of Americans) that I love! I want to see them get through their problems and find a better way, I really do. But every school shooting, every black man shot and killed for some minor infraction...

I mean, re: George Floyd, you know why the officer was kneeling on his neck, right? (Beside being a racist piece of shit, I mean). Floyd had tried to buy something with a bad $20 bill.  Here's the thing, though: *I* have tried (unknowingly) to pass a counterfeit bill - a bad ten dollar bill I was given in change at a 7-11 on Granville Street, which I tried, a few days later, to buy a slice of pizza with, not having noticed - as I am sure is the case with the 7-11 clerk, too - that the colours and details were a bit off. No one kneeled on my fuckin' neck for it - hell, the clerk at the pizza place even gave me the bill back, so I could use it my ESL classes as a warning to students. I still even might have it around somewhere (with the word "counterfeit" written across it in red pen, so no one mistakes it for real).

So, I mean, yes, right, black lives matter. It actually, truly needs saying, I guess. Seems like it shouldn't. Seems like it should be, like, "the earth is round" or "gun control is a good idea," or other kinda strangely contentious issues of the contemporary world. Seems like, actually, WE SHOULD BE BEYOND THIS RIGHT NOW, or, well, sorry folks, but America, it seems like YOU should be beyond this now, doesn't it? I mean, what, the LA riots were in 1992, right? (And say what you will about the Rodney King beating - at least they didn't KILL him!).

I mean, yes, I know, First Nations, Canada, etc. We're fucked up up here, too, I don't deny it. But, you know, I can recall two shooting rampages in Canada - one that ISIS-wannabe guy who had previously tried to rob a McDonald's with a stick, and this thing in Nova Scotia. There have probably been others, but there are none in my recent memory, which is quite different from the USA, where you just sort of give up trying to keep count. Another school shooting? Another black man killed by cops for some minor infraction?

And, you know, yes, Chantel Moore. Or Colten Boushie, or Jon Styres, or... It happens here, and if you want to say it's an aberration, then pick a story about white people wanting to build pipelines or flood or mine or log First Nations land. You have a range to choose from, from the Tsilhqot'in versus Taseko mines to the unresolved, ongoing struggles at Unist'ot'en camp to Site C damn to the Trans-Mountain pipeline to... It's all, undeniably, business as usual here in Canada -  we have our own stories, our own racism, our own inequities. How does Matthew 7:5 go again? I get it.

But it's just not the same degree of intensity that you see down south, the same degree of outrage. I mean, we riot here over fucking HOCKEY games, folks. As grotesque and trivial as that is, this week I've been thinking fondly about it. How luxurious, how charming, how sweet to live in a country that riots over fucking hockey, like we have nothing more serious to get upset about. Maybe it's just the plank in my eye, but it just seems worse in the United States - doesn't it? And it seems like THEY SHOULD KNOW BETTER BY NOW. Should have done something, should have fixed themselves...

Remember when Barack Obama was elected? I went to a fuckin' party to celebrate. There was more than one, I'm sure. I remember sitting there, I think at Cafe Deux Soleils on the Drive, being somewhat puzzled, thinking, why am I at a party to celebrate the election of a president of another country? But I get it now: people thought America had finally fixed itself. Finally, we thought. We don't have to worry for them anymore - they have found the way. How can it have gotten worse since that time? How does a country go from electing Barack Obama - flawed as he is - to electing Donald fucking Trump?

(Please fucking tell me they're not going to re-elect him? They can't, right? [They re-elected Bush]. What kind of psychotic decision-making process does an electorate have to display, here, that we have to actually worry about this possibility?).

It's like some sort of fucking caregiver fatigue sets in for Canadians, like you've got this errant relative that you really want to see get his life together, but who somehow finds ways to fuck everything up. Seeing Obama elected was like seeing a perpetual fuck-up relative clean up, get a job, and get married: finally their life was on track. For a few years, you didn't have to worry about them very much - give or take a few school shootings, the odd targeted overseas drone strike, it was a definite improvement for awhile... Then your relative goes on a meth binge, robs a convenience store, kills a security guard, and you're getting a call from jail...

So I have nothing to say, I'm wiped out. I am going to spend today seeing if I can track down a Velvet Underground CD box set with an awesome 36-minute jam of "Sister Ray" that came out five years ago, that a buddy posted about on Facebook. I'm not even gonna listen to Body Count!

It feels somewhat surreal, even irresponsible, after what we've been seeing all week on the news, to go about ones life like everything is normal...

...except, I guess, for America, this IS normal. How can it be? (And how can it be that it seems to be getting WORSE?).

How did that Clash song go again?