Friday, August 20, 2021

Another Crummy interview, plus Stab'Em in the Abdomen: apropos of Saturday's show

1. Bert Man/ Crummy

So what do you get for a punk rocker whose family's history extends back to those dark days in Chile - sometimes called "the other September 11th" - when a CIA-supported military coup supplanted the country's socialist Allende government and installed the torture-happy Pinochet regime? I'm talking about Bert Man, of course - my first Straight interview with whom is here, and my second here - and you get him Ariel Dorfman's How to Read Donald Duck, equally of course - a rather famous book in the history of cultural studies, in which Allende's cultural advisor Ariel Dorfman and Belgian leftist Armand Mattelart decode the capitalist propaganda in Disney comics. I mean, a) there's not much else I know about Chile, besides the film Death and the Maiden (based on a play by that same Dorfman, and touching on the same hisotry), and b) it helped that it just happened to be there on the shelf at Carson Books and Records on Main Street, where I was hanging out shortly before the last time I went to see Crummy play at LanaLou's

Anyhow, as the fates had it, it ended up being a strikingly fitting gift, because Bert was wearing a Condorito shirt - also a bird-themed cartoon character, but one that emerged from Chile. I had no idea about Condorito - it was my first exposure - but I snapped a pic of Bert in the shirt, holding the book - this one, actually: 

Commence interview.

So Bert, can you explain about Condorito?

Condorito is a cartoon condor very popular throughout Latin America. Kind of our Mickey Mouse but he is very much 'of the people.'  His house has a corrugated tin roof with tires on it to hold it down. His pants are patched.  He wears flip flops at all times, even when he is wearing a suit (court, funerals etc).  He works a different job in every story. He strikes a chord with people.

Shortly after that gig, Crummy undertook a tour of Japan, which I haven't heard much about. Any stories?

Japan was one of the best experiences in a life full of great experiences. We toured not in a van but hand bombing our stuff on the Japanese trains. We had a first class rail pass for the long hauls (295km/h!) but the local stuff was done on busy Japanese commuter trains. No mean feat I assure you. We were trapped for a couple of days in Kobe because of the hurricane. We took the opportunity to eat back to back luxurious three course Kobe beef meals.  We stayed in capsules, went to temples, visited Ochanomizu the Japanese guitar neighborhood. It was so good and we just got it under the wire before eveything went to shit. For that I shall be eternally grateful.

How is Goony doing these days? 

The Goon is doing great . I work with him so I see him a lot. He was instrumental in booking the Japan tour and has been helping me a lot in bringing Crummy together into a viable project. Gotta love the Goon.

Was Mr. Chi Pig a figure in your life? What's your history with SNFU? Any stories you want to share? 

We opened for SNFU once as the Strugglers. [Video here, I believe; Chris Walter was launching his SNFU band bio - which I helped proofread - and I'm pretty sure that Todd Serious was in the audience that night, which I think was my favourite-ever SNFU gig]. I met Chi in 90 or 91 when I was working as an attendant at the China Creek bowls. The young firebrand version. Very cool and approachable. He did 25 one footed nose 360s and blew my mind with his freestyle skateboard abilities. We were more aqcuaintances than 'to the bone' friends.

I gather you work in the restaurant biz, but either I've never known or I've completely forgotten what you do. What do you do? How is that? Do you feel camraderie with other foodie punks? (Willy Jak, say, who was playing bass at that SNFU show?) 

I did spend a lifetime working in the restaurant industry to the point where I grew totally sick of it. As far as camraderie with foodie punks, a lifetime of working with food has led me to loathe food and eating. As far as I can tell it is linked largely to the fact that me working in the food industry is a direct result of my being unable to sustain myself playing music. My 'failure' at music if you will. Still, I appreciate greatly that I have a fabulous job that allows me to live relatively well in a time of hardship.

How have you gotten by through COVID? How did it affect your job? Was there any bad weirdness (dealing with the maskless or visibly sick?). What wisdoms have you gained from this pandemic (or are you still the same person as before?). 

I kept working throughout the pandemic. My job involves dealing with at risk people with a series of challenges so there were many daily incidents haha. As far as wisdoms I've gained, sadly it was merely the realization that many of us are real selfish assholes. Some might say I fit that bill, fair enough. I'm certainly a flawed individual.

How have you used the pandemic as a musician - were you grateful for the time off to recalibrate and write and such, or were you really impatient to get back to it?

My playing improved 100% during the lockdown if not more. Many will claim that to be easy since I was so awful to begin with. Fair enough, they are not wrong, but over the last 6 or 7 years I have assembled a killer band. The next two songs we record are going to be the shit!

We talked about the apocalypse last time I interviewed you, apropos of the song "Apocalypse Blues" on Even If It Kills Me - do you feel like we're getting closer to it? 

It takes my breath away and makes my blood run cold. I fear I do not have the strength to withstand the terrors that are most assuredly coming.

Is "Andy Warhol" still in the set list? Are there any new songs, or new covers, we should talk about? 

"Andy Warhol" is certainly still in the set and we are killing it better than ever. We have a series of covers we cycle through. Most of them fall in the category of "Man it would be so cool to do this as a cover someday" - no "Mustang Sally" here. "Clones" by Alice Cooper, "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg," "Search and Destroy" by Iggy and the Stooges, "Hybrid Moments" by the Misfits. We do a pretty good version of "China Girl" but I guess that's a song that will be cancelled. Fair enough.  I totally understand. Plenty of other songs to cover.

That interview with Orchard actually stemmed from my being amused by his tales on Facebook of of pre-gig nerves and bathroom trips. Is that a regular phenomenon? I kinda wish I'd now asked every major musician about their bathroom habits before a show. Did LEMMY get pre-gig nerves and have to go to the can? (He sure didn't SEEM like he would).  

I am always very nervous before shows. I've been playing since I was 13 and still it happens before every show. 

It evaporates as soon as we start the first song but it is something i can't escape. It is probably a little worse since I became sober because I can't preoccupy myself with drinking and c-c-c-c-c-cocaine.

2. Ed Hurrell/ Stab'Em in the Abdomen

One of these men is not Ed Hurrell (Ed with Eugene Chadbourne, shortly before COVID hit)

My 2016 interview with Ed Hurrell about the history of Stab'Em in the Abdomen (and his then-tenure in Pill Squad, before he was sent to the gulag) delves deep into his past, so I mostly focused on the upcoming gig and the weird circumstances around it (coming out of a pandemic, maybe?). And while normally I go through people's answers and edit'em up and add punctuation - I put at least five commas into Bert's stuff, above - Ed's kinda made a creative statement about the way he's answered my questions, so who am I to tidy it? (It would take a helluva lot more than five commas). Besides, this way he gets to correct ME, since I (as you will see) get confused about the lineup for this gig and that of another band he is in). 

You will also notice that I doubled-dipped on a couple of the questions I'd asked Bert, but the ones I sent Ed were: 

1. What's the current lineup of Stab'Em?
2. What's your history with Terry? [I had heard that Terry Russell of Slow would be drumming for this show, but it seems like I was thinking of some other band that he and Ed are in, Rocket #9 - look'em up yerself!] Since leaving the country, coming back, and having all his possessions stolen... what are his current plans? (You're welcome to just forward that to him, if you like).

3. How has the pandemic treated you? How has the lack of live music affected you - did you get into doing other things, or...?

4. I know your pal ARGH! has drawn cartoons of Slow (and DOA and others) but did he ever do ones of Ogre or any of your other bands?

5. Any notable songs that are going to be on the setlist? I don't know my Stab'Em songs so well - are there any that you chose as being perfect for a (post-?) pandemic gig?

6. I am under the impression Eddy is NOT singing for this show, but he's been posting about it. Is he involved?

7. My interview with Orchard [see a couple posts ago] stemmed from my being amused by his posting on Facebook about pre-gig nerves and having to go to the toilet. I've asked Bert about this too - I'm totally curious how normal a phenomenon this is. I have missed out my chance - I could have asked every musician I interviewed about toilet needs before the show (did LEMMY get pre-gig nerves and hafta take a dump? Now we'll never know!).

8. Do you feel at all nervous about returning to public performance, with numbers on the climb? What do you predict will happen in the future? (Further lockdowns?).

Here are Ed's answers, verbatim (because this is PERFECT and says more about Ed than my tidied version would. It'd be like adjusting Hubert Selby's paragraphs in Last Exit, or adding uppercase letters to an e.e. cummings poem): 

Hey Al... here goes....1/  Line giut.Vocals)   Eddy dutchman.(Bass vocals)..
).Shane davis (Tankhog).(Lead guit)...Johnathan Moogk..drums..///2//  RE: Terry...He's planning on moving away from Van..hates the high rents and shitty winters...I've known Terry since early Slow days...Played in Ogre with him...And Liquor kings..This Rocket #9 band, Is Liquor Kings with out Dutchman..All new Songs..garage rock type stuff..////3/..Pandemic wise...I've woodshedded with R #9 and Stab'em...Really miss playing gigs...It's what WE DO!! Gives one a sense of Purpose..reading books and drawing is fun but one forgets Who one is.. sorta..Imagine if you weren't allowed to write!!..."But it's WHO I AM!!"....//// 4/  RE: ARRRGH!..
An early Band ...Diseased (our 1st band which didn't go any where...other then that NO..////5//  RE: Pandemic..Weirdly almost all of our songs deal with some kind of DOOM!! I', thinking "Worried (About you)" is pretty good...Worried about the general state of affairs in the mean ol' world..6/....RE: EDDY D.  Dutchman is totally singing..(he's NOT in Rocket #9!!)...But he IS in stab'em...Hence the confusion pehaps..(PLUG!..Rocket #9 IS looking for an Opening slot with some one...If anybody needs a Kick ass opener...we're Availble!!)7/  WEllll....takin' a preShow whizz is pretty Par for the course...Don't wanna be doin' the Pee-Dance 1/2 way thru yer for Bowel Movements..not a problem fer me..However eating Before a show IS a No-no for me..Nerves I guess..8/....NO not really...had both my VAXX soo..playin' safe..No Huggin' or that sort of thing..Distancing...The future?? Hmmmm...Probably be up and down..I'm ALWAYS suspicious of ANYTHING that Conveniently Aids the Power's  that be!!..OK..thats about ALL I to clear things up...Rocket #9 is a Totally different project from Stab'em...Mike laviolette, Guitar extraordinaire...Me bass...Steve graf Other guit.(Riff monster)...Terry Russell Drumking!!..WE are looking for an opening slot as we have a 35 minute Rockin' set...And we're just starting..anybody need an opening act?? ....Thankx AL...

Got that? Anyone who wants an opening slot for a Rocket #9 gig - and what a great name for a band - should either write Ed at his Facebook page or go see him at the gig tomorrow night at LanaLou's, where the food is good, the beer is plentiful, and the masks are few! (Turns out to be an ill-timed gig for me, since I will be visiting a purposefully unvaxxed senior citizen in less than two weeks, and can't risk bringing anything with me...). 

Knock'em dead, Bert and Ed! 

(Photo by Bob Hanham, lifted off Ed's Facebook page). 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Orchard Pinkish on Playing During Plague: an interview

All concert photos by Gordon E. McCaw, of Betty Bathory's Daddy Issues band, featuring Orchard Pinkish. Orchard Pinkish in black on the left; I am the bald guy on the right. 

Something weird and interesting took place two weeks ago at the Betty Bathory birthday bash: I was able, consciously, to set COVID out of my mind for a few hours and have a great night at a rock show. I enjoyed myself immeasurably, but there were - before I just shrugged and went with it - definitely a few moments of nervousness early on, as I entered a reasonably large group of people, none masked, and proceeded to slosh back beer and socialize, almost like I was secure that the COVID vaccines were going to protect me. Everyone else seemed on the same page too; other than LanaLou's staff members, about the only person I saw with a mask was the estimable Orchard Pinkish, onstage with Betty, wearing - at least when he first came out - black robes and a Plague Doctor mask of considerable menace.

Since he stood out, was perhaps of a like mind about the relative safety of the evening, and was amenable to my bugging him, I thought I'd ask Orchard how he felt about the night, and how well he's been weathering COVID. The following is the text of my email interview, only slightly tinkered with for clarity. 

How has COVID impacted you personally? Have you been keeping safe? What have you been working on during the shutdown?

Certainly the initial lockdown shut down any musical endeavors that I was involved in, had an impact on my job in that it caused a real slowdown and ratcheted up my already high level of stress about the state of the world today. I've been following provincial health guidelines, wearing a mask 8 hours a day at work and anywhere that I am in public for the duration.

I spent about 2 months with a light workload, no rehearsals and no social interaction. I was bringing my acoustic guitar to work just to keep sane and keep my hands moving. As someone who likes to play a lot and whose social life revolves around music, this started to take a toll on my mental health. Fortunately my work neighbor (Don Binns) noticed the guitar one day and suggested that we do a little socially distanced playing in the parking lot out back of our workplaces. The following Friday, he pulled out his upright bass and I my guitar and we stood in the parking lot and played our asses off for about 6 hours. The following week we were joined by his colleague Jamie Wilson on drums and 'The Lot Lizards' were born. We even recruited R.D. Cane to do this little video for us.  

Screen grab from RD's video

Another fortunate thing that happened was a call I got from Scott MacLeod about a month before the lockdown. Scott asked if I would be interested in joining his band 'The Imperial'. I had been a fan of Scott for some time and knew and loved his bandmates Cam Alexander, Michael Nathanson and Richard Katynski. My first thought on this was 'what the hell would I do in this band... ' Rich was obviously on bass. Scott is just a killer guitar player who needs no second in my opinion. Mandolin didn't seem like a fit for what they were doing. I was a bit perplexed. When I asked Scott his response was a bit shocking : Synthesizer. I pointed out that I have no keys skills and no gear. He said something like 'great, when can you start?' Naturally this gave me a real mountain to climb and I have done my best to catch up to these absolute giants. I have gone from non-keys player to shitty keys player in a mere 18 months, and the guys have been super supportive and seem to like what I am doing.

How do you feel about the government response to COVID? What has impressed you?

I think the government response has been adequate. I was not impressed by any aspect of it, but they did act. They did provide supports; they did not politicize it. It was just ok.

3. Have you entertained any skepticism or concern about:
a) the safety or efficacy of the vaccines

No, the vaccines went through the standard trials etc, so they are certainly as safe as any other drug that we approve. It was impressive that they happened so quickly. It make you wonder how quickly we could deal with other health issues if we were willing to put these levels of resources towards them.

b) the level of fear inculcated in the media

I don't think this sort of fear mongering was evidenced in Canadian media. I think some propaganda networks in the US really fucked their viewers by turning this into a political issue.

c) the need for lockdowns

This was a new thing, that was quite obviously a potential epidemic. That our governments were willing to shut down was a glimmer of hope for me. They were willing to at least pay lip service to saving the lives of their constituents over keeping the economy running in a business as usual manner.

d) any "hidden agendas"

I think this is just silly. If there is some sort of deep state or shadow government it is synonymous with wealth: Corporate interests or the interests of the uber rich. The last thing these interests would want is to stop the up syphon of capitol. If you look at their PR branches in the US, they have been literally fighting like hell to stop the shutdowns. Its sad that people are willing to believe in bullshit conspiracies when the real conspirators operate in the light of day.

e) the influence of anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, etc

Fear is the enemy of logic. When I think about masking I look at it this way... If masks dont help, I will have worn a piece of fabric on my face for no reason. If they do help I may end up responsible for someone dying. How can this even be a question. Who is so weak that they can't tolerate a fucking mask. I do it all day long. I literally forget I have it on sometimes. Sometimes my ears hurt a little. Boo fucking hoo. Talk about snowflakes.

f) whether we will need to go into lockdown again at this rate (care to speculate on when?).

I think we are in pretty good shape to be honest [case counts were around 300/day when Orchard was writing this, note - things change! But he may still feel the same way]. The MRNA vaxes are 95-97% effective at keeping you from getting the delta variant (and alpha), and 99.99% effective at keeping you out of the hospital if you do have a breakthrough infection. If we can get to the mid 90's percentile for fully vaccinated we should be ok, and we are on track. The caveat here is variants. Delta+, Lambda, we just don't know. This is where the politicization of the response in other countries is hurting us. It creates low vax rates in places and thus breeding grounds for mutation. Its incredibly frustrating. I was lucky in that I qualified for a shot early. I happily waited in line for 5 hours in the spring for my first shot, and have been double vaxxed since June 21. I will absolutely get a booster in 6 months if it is available and recommended.   

Thanks - let's get to the show: when and where did you acquire that Plague Doctor costume? Was it specifically for the show?

Yes and no. About 10 years ago I found this mask shop in Vic. I grabbed a fantastic masquerade mask and a equally wicked Plague Doctor mask. I used them a couple times with the Strugglers I think. Going into this show I had a lot of trepidation and concern about whether any of the new guidelines were a good idea. I thought it was absolutely necessary that I wear the Plague Doctor get-up as a statement of my concern. Despite my guarded optimism and favorable data, I still have a level of skepticism and worry about all of this. We are in uncharted waters and no one really knows for sure.

Back to the mask. As you know, I recently moved. Most of my show costuming is in storage and I am in that early move state of chaos. I spent a couple hours searching for this mask to no avail. The day of the show I actually had to source a new one that was perhaps not as great as the one I can't find, but it said what I wanted to say.   

Would you agree that the mood was one of just completely blocking out all thought or worry about the pandemic, throwing caution to the wind? Were you aware that that would be the case before you took the stage, or was it a surprise...? Did you feel safe? did you feel worried? Are you changing your behaviour now (avoiding immunocompromised friends or such...?).

It was a non-prophylactic event for sure. I kind of expected this. A real show, booze, that awesome lineup, friends.. It all just adds up to people really letting loose. I think we all needed that for our souls, but the though of it being a dangerous thing was in the front of my mind the whole time. Betty's birthday and Daddy Issues shows should always be considered dangerous events, but hopefully not life-threatening.   

While it was in line with guidelines (which seem to be 'go for it'), it was uncomfortable for me. I have not been in a crowd in almost two years. That felt weird and anxiety inducing, but I'm not super wild about crowds to begin with. There were no masks which also felt weird after the past two years. I kept reminding myself that there were 23 cases the day before in the VCH region (2.3/100000 cases/pop) and that masks are encouraged indoors at 8.8/100000+. I kept telling myself that most of us are double vaxxed and that I trust this group to be vaxxed if interacting (for the most part?) I cleared my schedule and got tested 5 days afterwards. (clear).

Would you do it again? (I mean, no question - it was an immensely fun night and I kinda felt like I NEEDED it, but, like, I didn't go to Crummy. I considered it but like I say, I didn't want to push my luck...

I have bookings in September and October but I'm just playing it by ear. Things are really uncertain and this one was a litmus test for me. I'm not sure how I feel about it all really, so I am going to see how things are playing out and try to err on the side of caution going forward.


Thanks to Orchard Pinkish and Gord McCaw. Now: do I go see Crummy and Stab'Em in the Abdomen at LanaLou's on the 21st? Hmmm... let's see how my test results go...

The Asian Persuasion All-Stars talk about their "Racist Friend": an interview with Tim Chan, Eric Lowe, and Tony Lee

One of the most interesting courses I took as part of my undergrad degree was a seminar in Asian-Canadian literature at SFU - especially since activist/ poet Roy Miki, who taught the course, was able to get almost everyone who wrote the stories and books we were reading to come into class. Fred Wah read from and spoke about Diamond Grill, his memoir about his childhood spent in the kitchen of his father's Chinese restaurant - and explained how, because his mother was Scandinavian, he had, for much of his life, the guilty luxury of passing for white, at least until people noticed his last name. Jim Wong-Chu, poet and editor of a terrific anthology of Chinese Canadian short stories called Many Mouthed Birds, talked about protests and riots in Chinatown and the history of anti-racist activism in Vancouver. And Hiromi Goto, author of A Chorus of Mushrooms, talked about her frustrations when strangers would assume, because of her facial features, that she could explain to them how to cook all things Japanese (at a grocery store, for instance: "Are these skinny eggplants different from the fat ones?' She seethed a little at recounting the experience). 

That kind of thinking had come up before in class, when talking about the race-based presumptions that Asian Canadians have to vault over regularly - from being good at math to being able to read Chinese characters to having a fondness for congee (or what-have-you). It was strikingly underscored when a fellow student asked Professor Miki to explain some of the Japanese phrases riddled throughout A Chorus of Mushrooms. She was clearly shocked and confused that he couldn't translate them. She didn't actually say, "But... but... you're Japanese!" But Professor Miki is from Canada, his first language is English, and his connection to Japan was, at that point, anyhow, fairly remote. I still remember his raised eyebrows as his student proved his point for him.    

Top Row L-R: Tamla Mah. Ashton Sweet. Ron Kenji. Mike Chang. Second Row: Eric Lowe. Brooke Fujiyama, Tim Chan. Norine Braun.Third Row: Felix Fung. Greg Hathaway. Gabe Ng. Kevin Tang. Bottom Row: Brian Minato, Tony Lee, Norah Holtby.

That was one of my first questions, then, in interviewing the Asian Persuasion All-Stars, a mostly all-Asian Canadian supergroup consisting of Tony Lee (drummer and percussionist for Kele Fleming, EddyD and the Sexbombs, the New Black, & Hard Rock Miners); Eric Lowe (drummer for the Vanrays and former 64 Funnycars member); Tim Chan (guitars and vocals for China Syndrome and Pill Squad, also formerly - or should I say "occasionally?" - in 64 Funnycars), Mike Chang (China Syndrome); Tamla Mah (Abel Collective); Gabe Ng (Abel Collective); Brian Minato (SLIP~ons, the Deep Cove, and formerly Sarah McLachlan); Ron Yamauchi (Kele Fleming); Brooke Fujiyama (the Shit Talkers, Swinging Hammers; Greg Hathaway (Roots Roundup, Hathaway Brothers); Norine Braun (Norine Braun and Alice Fraser); Ashton Sweet (Balkan Shmalkan, Babyface Brass, and many other bands); Kevin Tang (Camaro 67, Big Easy Funk Ensemble) and producer Felix Fung (Sunday Morning, Les Chaussettes, producer of many others!).

Over the course of an email exchange with Tony, Tim, and Eric, I asked them what kind of assumptions they have to play past, as Chinese Canadians? Do people ask where they're from? Do they encounter other bits of subtle, othering racism in daily life? 

Tim: I've rarely been asked if I was from somewhere else simply based on being Asian. For sure, I have had people assume that because I'm Chinese, I know everything related to China or Chinese things or how to say certain words in Cantonese or Mandarin. I can speak rudimentary Cantonese (mostly to my mom) and know a little bit of Mandarin but that's as far as it goes. It is annoying when certain people continue to think I know these things and I keep telling them I don't know but they keep asking me anyways!

Eric: I've personally never been asked where I'm from as far as I can remember. Very, very rarely something racist might be directed my way and then I'm reminded of my heritage, but it doesn't happen too often. This doesn't make me special, it just makes me lucky. This could all change in an instant. Growing up though racist slurs and nicknames seemed to be the norm in elementary and high school (yes, elementary school) starting as early as Grade 1. It's easy to dismiss it as sign of the times but looking back it's pretty sad that six-year olds were calling me "Chink".

Tony: I've also been fortunate not to have been directly confronted for years and years. Our joke in high school was, "Those people should go back to where they came from...East Van!"

Mike Chang, left, and Tim Chan, right

Chan explains that the project was designed "to spotlight our Asian musician friends, adding that "we do have some non-Asians in the collective too who are very supportive." Their first release is a cover of the Special AKA's "Racist Friend." The Asian-Persuasion All-Stars' video for their cover of it will debut on August 20th, here, but you can hear the audio-only version on their bandcamp page

It is unusual, Chan continued, for the band members to shine a light on their identities thus. (He's explained in a past Straight interview what the name of his band China Syndrome was as much a reference to late 70's movies as to he and Mike being Chinese). But with anti-Asian racism on the rise, the musicians saw an opportunity to lend support to - "a Vancouver organization working to interrupt, dismantle and eliminate anti-Asian racism at all levels through an approach that affects change via education, media representation, policy changes and community organizing. All proceeds from downloads and streams of "Racist Friend" will go toward supporting Elimin8hate, the advocacy arm of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival."

So who in the Asian Persuasion All-Stars has worked with whom, before, exactly? How was the recording done? Was it challenging, with so many bandmembers and so much worry about COVID?
Tim: For sure Eric and I have a long history indeed, which you've already documented elsewhere. I've played with Tony a number of times as well, as part of Brent Kane's birthday band, guesting with EddyD and the Sexbombs at Bowie Ball 2019, and he played with China Syndrome at the last live Bowie Ball in 2020. Of course, Mike is in China Syndrome with me. Otherwise, this is my first collaboration with all the other musicians. All the recording was done at home by each of us and we sent the files to Felix, who put it all together and mixed it. So we actually haven't been together in one room as yet - I haven't even met some of the group members! We have a live gig booked at LanaLou's on September 19 so we will finally be meeting in person soon.

Eric: A few years back Tony (also a drummer) and I decided to form Secret Asian Man. Based on the slightly humorous (possibly misguided) idea that two Chinese drummers join forces and play duets. That would be the first time I collaborated with Tony. Secret Asian Man plays mostly empty venues to very polite applause. Sometimes Tim joins us as the ringer who can actually play guitar.

Tony: I am a fan of Eric and Tim in the VanRays, China Syndrome, Polly, and Swank. I am often playing on a bill with one or both of them. EddyD and the Sex Bombs adopted Tim for the Bowie Ball one year, and China Syndrome had me aboard the year after. I thought of this supergroup recording after seeing the umpteenth anti-Asian incident on the local news. I knew we had enough talent amongst our friends. Eddie Lam was too busy, and I didn't hear back from Johnny Wildkat of The Furniture.

Tim: Tony Lee is the one who initiated this project -- he messaged Eric and me about doing a benefit recording to combat the rising anti-Asian racism we are seeing in Metro Vancouver. Tony chose the song as well, the Special AKA's "Racist Friend," originally recorded in 1984. We very briefly bandied about the idea of playing They Might Be Giants' "Your Racist Friend" but stuck with the Special AKA song because we could feature a variety of vocalists and also pay tribute to Leslie Kong, a Chinese-Jamaican and a huge influence on the creation of reggae. He produced Desmond Dekker's "Israelites," and early Bob Marley and the Wailers and Toots and the Maytals records. Hence the subtitle for the song, "Felix Fung King Kong mix," with the amazing Felix Fung mixing it and the reference to Leslie Kong.

How has racism impacted their families, historically?
Tim: Racism has absolutely impacted my family historically on my father's side. My grandfather paid the $500 head tax to immigrate into Canada from China to work in Canada in the early 1920s; his economic prospects were better here than in impoverished South China. He was already married but was not allowed by the Canadian government to have his wife (my grandmother) with him in this country because he was Chinese -- this was when the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect. So he had to come here alone and was only allowed to visit his wife in China every seven years. Of course, guess what? My grandmother had a child every seven years - all my dad's siblings were seven years apart. The act was finally repealed in 1947, but my grandfather was not able to bring my grandmother and my dad's younger brother to Canada until 1950. Unfortunately, my dad was left behind in Hong Kong because he was over the age of 18 and immigration to Canada for Chinese people was restricted only to wives and children under that age; only Chinese people had this restriction imposed on them and this was not lifted until 1967! My dad was finally able to join the rest of his family in Canada, so he had almost as long a wait as my grandfather did. Anyways, the Canadian immigration laws at that time were rooted in racism and my family's story is unfortunately very common to many other Chinese families of the same generation.

Eric: My great grandfathers on both sides came over to work building the railway and it's well documented how poorly and unfairly they were treated compared to white workers. Both were also subjected to the head tax but fortunate enough to be allowed to stay in Canada. My father was able to join his grandfather in Canada but had to come into the country as the child of another family because at the time grandparents were not allowed to sponsor their grandchildren. He settled in and eventually corrected his status which made it possible for him to sponsor my mother to come to the country.

Tony: I am not as well versed in my family history as I would like. My dad got a business degree from UBC in the early 1960's. His classmates were offered much better job offers than him. He started out managing the lighting department at Eaton's at Brentwood Mall, which was a first for an Asian Canadian man.

Tony Lee

Had the band seen incidents of COVID-related anti-Asian racism? (I told them that I saw one homeless-looking guy yelling at a group of Asian girls once, but that was about it -  the girls kept their cool, and I checked in afterwards, and it seemed like they were okay).
Tim: I have not experienced racism during the pandemic nor have I witnessed any incidents. It appears, as a male of decent stature, I'm not in the target group for the attacks - the perpetrators have been primarily targeting more vulnerable people such as seniors and young women, which is very unfortunate and disgusting, really.
Neither Eric nor Tony have experienced anything directly; Tony adds, "As loud-ish Asians we attempt to speak on behalf of more reticent people." 

So what should I do, I asked Tim, Eric, and Tony, about my 90-something year old uncle, who has taken to calling COVID the "Chinese virus?" (He started doing this after seeing videos put out by the Epoch Times - a Falun Gong-associated newspaper with a pro-Trump, anti-Communist bias - which blamed the Chinese Communist Party for COVID's spread; Epoch Times were calling it the CCP virus, and he "shortened" the phrase, probably with a little bit of old-fashioned "yellow peril" racism in mind, akin to the attitude parodied in the old couplet by Phil Ochs, "they speak Chinese/ and they spread disease"). What would you say to him?

Tim: I would ask him why he is specifically calling it the "Chinese Virus." How did the article from Epoch Times or any other information he has come across convince him to call it that? I would try to have a civil discussion with him about it and try to get to the root of why he is saying this and perhaps reflect on his biases and perceptions he has had over the years. As he is 90+ years old, it may be difficult to convince him otherwise, but it would be a very interesting and enlightening conversation to have.

Tony: I doubt that any Asian Persuasion would be effective on your elderly uncle.

Eric Lowe, Tony Lee

Does the band have any special relationship to the Specials, the Special AKA, or ska? Are there other songs out there germane to, or specifically about, anti-Asian racism, that they considered covering?
Tim: As you know I'm more of a power pop kinda guy, but I've always enjoyed the Specials/Special AKA and I own their albums... I'm not aware of any specific songs about anti-Asian racism [but see his mention of They Might Be Giants, above]. Again we are performing live on September 19 and have put together a set list for the gig, all covers, and some are other anti-racism songs. We encourage people to come to the show to hear what we end up playing!
Tony: I am a fan of the late seventies Two Tone movement (Specials, Madness, Selecter, Beat). I know less about early ska and rocksteady, but it's pretty great. Third wave ska is less interesting to me, except Fishbone. We are busting some other covers for a gig in September, some by Asian artists and some about general togetherness.

Then there's the question I'm dying to ask: what the heck does the band make of the Payola$ early single, "China Boys?" Is it some sort of glib racist anthem, or is it taking the piss, or what...? I've always enjoyed the tune, but never felt comfortable with the lyrics - it's undeniably catchy, maybe one of the Payola$' greatest moments musically, but, I mean, Skrewdriver are pretty catchy, too, musically. Have any of you had a chance to take it up with Paul Hyde or Bob Rock? What would you say to them?

Tim: To be honest, I've always enjoyed "China Boys" as a song, though I've always been bothered by the phrase "ten billion people." That is SO far off the mark of not only the population of China (1.4 billion, and much less when the song was written) but also of the entire world (7.7 billion people)! This rather outrageous number, not to mention the ridiculous lyrics of the song (e.g. "I hear them laughing/ I know where you are/ I don't want your TV/ I want your car") leads me to conclude that they are singing in the character of someone who is paranoid about a "Chinese invasion." In context, the song was written in the late 70s around the time of the Vietnamese-Chinese "boat people" who were forced out of Vietnam when it went under a Communist regime post-Vietnam war. So I am erring on the side of satire for this song, though their video and faux-"oriental" riff somewhat negates this! And how about "Turning Japanese" by the Vapors?!

Eric: I don't mind "China Boys" all that much. Can't say I was big Payola$ fan so never paid much attention to it really. Now Mitsou's "Les Chinois"...

Tony: I never thought 'China Boys" was racist. I'm a Payola$ fan. We decided that "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas is too problematic to play live, even though I love that probably racist song.

 Ron Yamauchi (AKA Ron Kenji) and Kimiko Karpoff

What comes next? Is this a one-off project, or will they do an album, or..?
Tony: APAS was definitely created as a one off. If no one had asked us to play live, we probably wouldn't. I've never met some of our band members in person, but I look forward to it. I would love to write a classic anti-racist anthem, but I suspect I might not.

Tim: As I mentioned, we'll be playing live on September 19 at LanaLou's. The show will be a benefit for Elimin8hate and will also feature four other APAS-related bands: China Syndrome, Swimming Hammers (with Brooke Fujiyama), Norine Braun and Alice Fraser, and the Hathaway Brothers (with Greg and David Hathaway). Not sure about other live gigs and other recordings after this, I believe there's a chance we will play as part of the Vancouver Asian Film Festival in November as well, but that hasn't been confirmed yet.
As for the great anti-racist Asian-Canadian rock anthem, I'm hoping it will be written at some point, maybe by one of us or, even better, by a younger Asian musician! I wrote a song a number of years ago when I was in 64 Funnycars called "Something Real" that was ostensibly about being in a mixed-race relationship and how difficult it was to be open about it, and how we could continue the relationship in secret but it would not change societal attitudes: "you'd think they'd learn from experience that it's not such a big thing anymore, can't they see that we're in love, and it makes no difference how I am, what I am, who I am..." I deliberately wrote the lyrics to be more universal as it could apply to other relationships (e.g. LGBTQ2+) but my original perspective is from the point-of-view of being in a mixed-race relationship. Of course, I am married to Sarah, a non-Asian, and Tony and Eric are also married to non-Asians, and I know several members of APAS are of mixed heritage.
Brooke Fujiyama

What else have the bandmembers been doing during the pandemic?
Tim: China Syndrome has been relatively quiet over the pandemic period. We start practicing again in September and will be looking to play live in the Fall. Mike and I have done some iso-collaborations of our songs during the pandemic ("Nowhere to Go," "Footsteps on the Roof," "Empty") and also covered some Red Hot Chili Peppers. Mike and I also did a couple of iso-collaborations with Eric and Gord Rempel of the Vanrays (combined we are the ChinaRays) on covers of Squeeze and Joe Jackson songs. Pill Squad is rehearsing again, and we will be playing live in the fall as well -- we released an EP online earlier this year, Kissan Silma, and will have a CD release party for it on Oct 1st at LanaLou's.

Eric: The Vanrays have just mastered 16 tracks, enough for an LP, EP and single. We hope to release the LP very soon with the other recordings following that. We've also recorded a video for one of the LP tracks called "Hard Times," but that will stay under wraps until the release. Otherwise we have a couple shows at Lanalou's scheduled for Nov, details to come.[Check their bandcamp page for updates?].

Tony: EddyD & the Sex Bombs recently released a second album, Yikes!, and will play in October. Sparky Spurr and the Wretched Sinners play in mid August and might record soon. The New Black has an album in the can, but won't always return my emails. Kele Fleming is writing songs for a new album. The Hard Rock Miners' Singalong has repurposed itself as The South Trout Orchestra for outdoor gigs.

Kele Fleming and Tony Lee

Thanks to Tim, Eric, and Tony for taking time with my questions and their answers, and for putting together such a cool project! Get tickets for the Elimin8hate fundraiser/ Asian Persuasion All-Stars gig here. For updates, check out their Facebook page. To learn more about Elimin8hate, visit their website

Saturday, August 07, 2021

Monday Music in the Park - New West...

 David M. drew my attention to this, and I'll be there to see him play, but Stephen Hamm? Jimmy Roy? Ian Tiles (resurrecting Buddy Selfish with Mike Van Eyes???). I'm goin'.