Somewhere this song was playing, but it wasn't Randy Newman, it was a cover. (Far as I know no covers of the song exist).
Tuesday, May 17, 2022
Somewhere this song was playing, but it wasn't Randy Newman, it was a cover. (Far as I know no covers of the song exist).
Monday, May 16, 2022
I realize people are excited about Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Apparently you can even see it in 3D at the Imax. I am home with COVID, so I won’t be hitting the IMAX anytime soon, but a friend went and – while he likes any 3D – was a tad disappointed to see that the 3D had been added in post, that it wasn’t actually filmed as a 3D movie. When it is conceived in 3D from the gitgo, it generally means “things coming out of the screen at you.” (Lots of particulate, too, methinks = flashlights in dusty rooms, that Prometheus thing... you know what I mean). My friend's friends thought the 3D was "ho hum," he reported.
To return to the new Dr. Strange, same friend also notes it has “good Sam Raimi input.”
Oh, yeah, if it wasn’t clear, I was creating a false distinction above between the new Sam Raimi and the new Doctor Strange. The new Doctor Strange *is* the new Sam Raimi, as I'm sure some of you recognized. But much as Raimi has his fans, I don't think - for example - that a lot of people flocked to see the Spider-Man trilogy he did, for obvious example, out of an excitement to see "the new movie by Sam Raimi," nor were they expecting that much of his signature style. Similarly, I *think* the brands that are relevant here to most people will be Marvel, Dr. Strange, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Not only will these be the primary draw, they’ll be the key determiners, along with the sheer budget involved, of the eye of the film; Raimi will have some freedom to put some of his distinct signifiers on it, but he won’t be able to pee in every corner of this particular territory (not that he should necessarily need to, but some people LIKE it “in Raimi territory,” the same way they want excess and smashingly surreal imagery from Ken Russell). To put it in terms of DePalma, the new Dr. Strange might be to Raimi's filmography what The Untouchables was for DePalma, distinctly his but not his in the same way that Snake Eyes or Raising Cain are HIS, if you see what I mean. Or to put it in terms of other Raimi - it might be about as Raimi as, say, Spider-Man, but it is unlikely to be much more so - probably not even as Raimi as Spider-Man 3, which gets into some very frequent Raimi territory, like visual and performance excess and characters being confronted by malign doubles.
A brief consideration of Levels and Degrees of Raimi: The Evil Dead movies all have the Raimi-factor set very high, but one feels it isn’t until the second and third that the, uh, Raiminess has been identified and is being self-consciously cultivated, that Raimi has figured out what makes a film distinctly his and is doing it a LOT. Let’s say that the Raimi is set at 10 for The Evil Dead, and then in the manner of Spinal Tap, set at 11 for Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness.
Ash Versus Evil Dead, which does have Raimi’s input, but often is directed by others, dials it back to eight, maybe. Other people attempting to Raimi it up can only achieve so much.
But of the non-Evil Dead films that Raimi has made, while I enjoy many of them - especially A Simple Plan and The Gift - only three that I have seen (and probably Crimewave, which I haven’t) are very strongly Raimi, and they’re all ones he wrote: Spider-Man 3 is more Raimi-fied than the first two; then Drag Me to Hell, which seems to be Raimi very consciously making a Sam Raimi movie to reward his fans for having stuck by him through his "superhero years"... and one kinda-forgotten gem from 1990, Darkman.
There are lots of reasons people might want to look at it again. It’s Liam Neeson’s first-ever action film, for one thing. It has an early Frances McDormand role - a meaty one, where she's a smart, able co-protagonist. There are a host of cameos for cinema insiders, from Bruce Campbell himself (whose presence in anything increases the Raiminess by a couple notches, even if Raimi is not involved) to William Lustig, the Coen brothers, and John Landis. Jenny Agutter – practically still in her Nurse Price uniform from An American Werewolf in London – is onscreen long enough that her role counts as a role, not a cameo. And there are a host of other genre references – at different points, I found myself thinking of Frankenstein - both doctor and monster; the Phantom of the Opera; the Abominable Dr. Phibes, the Mummy, the Elephant Man, Spider-Man, and Batman.
Sunday, May 15, 2022
An interview with Heather Haley: Skookum Raven and her new musical project, Pluviophiles (with Keir Nicoll)
Heather Haley - author of The Town Slut's Daughter and singer for the Zellots and the .45s, previously interviewed by me about her Vancouver-to-LA punk rock past here - has a new book, a collection of her poetry called Skookum Raven. A descriptive blurb online explains of it: "There are some rough and wild birds around Howe Sound - West Coast avians like the sharp-shinned hawk, the northern harrier, and the whiskey-jack. Heather Haley, an accomplished mapper of human migration, pair-bonding and predation, takes these feathered frenemies as her starting point in this assured third collection, Skookum Raven."
Haley also has a new musical venture, Pluviophiles, undertaken with fellow rain-lover Keir Nicoll. Their debut performance occurs at the launch of that book, May 17th at Massy Books, so in respect of that, I fired off a few email interview questions for Heather. Let's get right to it - I'm in italics, and Heather is not.
My friend Julie Vik, of Resin (with Alex Varty) said, "Songwriter folk in the tradition of Robyn Hitchcock or Elliot Smith."
Are you both actually rain lovers, or did you just like the name?
I would say both; that we love the word, the name, and Vancouver's rain; with reservations at times of course. Certainly it can make life challenging but rain also summons melancholy. Beauty. I love the smell and sound of rain, the way it 'cleans' the air and perhaps provides a new beginning. Day. Also, living in Vancouver, if you can't at least tolerate rain, well, you're fucked.
It sounds like the project was entirely borne of the pandemic - true? How have you weathered things, generally? (Have you been going to shows or other public things? Did you or Keir already have COVID?).
No, we were playing together before the pandemic, rather haltingly because when we first started I was still residing on Bowen Island so logistics were an issue. We met when Keir interviewed me for Citrus Magazine and then came to a reading of The Town Slut's Daughter that I did at the Noir at the Bar series in 2017. I can't recall exactly how or when we decided to collaborate. It must have seemed like an obvious conclusion. We just sort of fell into it. Keir says we "fell into a bottomless whole."
I've avoided shows during the pandemic, laid low as much as possible. Keir was working on a food truck, being careful. We also avoided COVID, far as I can tell. After two years I caught something this past December, which I suspect may have been Omicron. I couldn't get tested due to being snowed in and rapid tests weren't available yet.
Do your poems become songs - can you give us an example of a lyric?
Yes, with The Pluviophiles, there is much cross pollination between my poetry and our songs.
Fathers must frown
On all that flags or is soft,
On sentiment and church-dodging,
Dad disapproves of alone moments
No matter how hard it gets.
Extend yourself, Numb Nuts
Be rewarded with stature.
Ample mama frets the fluids,
Alpha Pop declaring:
No stains. No beach. Align yourself
With your brothers. Mask nothing,
Abide. Or I’ll give you something
To cry about. I’ll inflict the day.
Bumps. Loads. Crowing cocks.
A crossroad or two.
This one is fun to perform. Many of our songs are ironic/tongue in cheek. I imagine most people assume by the title that we're referring to the pandemic and current "hard times" but it's actually about teenage boys staining the sheets with uncontrollable erections/lust and their frustrated devoutly religious parents.
Oh, my, I just re-read that with your explanation in mind... But, uh, anything else we should say about the launch/ concert? (Other artists performing? Any notes on the venue...?).
I'm opening the evening with a poetry reading, works from my most recent collection Skookum Raven.
We're sharing the bill with award-winning playwright, poet and spoken word artist Johnny Trinh who will also be emceeing. Rafael Zen and the people at Massy Books have been nothing but kind, encouraging and enthusiastic. I admire the store and their commitment to community. All the deets are here.
A final question, out of curiosity - Susan Musgrave gets mentioned as a kindred spirit in some of the writing about Skookum Raven. Did you ever cross paths with her? Any stories there? (Or do you have other BC poets that you have better ones about/ feel more akin to?).
Yes, I have crossed paths with Susan Musgrave many times. I first bumped into her in Whistler. She had just completed collaborating with Lincoln Clarkes on a short film based on his Heroines book. Since then I've visited her on Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii and we've shared bills at several poetry festivals. I've always admired Susan and her work and feel honoured to call her a friend along with BC poets Catherine Owen, Hilary Peach, Jude Neale, Joanne Arnott, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Susan Cormier, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Miranda Pearson and Heidi Greco.
When it comes to obituaries, these days, I might post on Facebook, but in the case of people whose death is widely felt and who I have no great personal associations with, I generally don't write about them here. So much as I loved Fred Ward - in Tremors, in Miami Blues, in Southern Comfort, in Thunderheart, basically in any role I saw him in - I had nothing in particular to say about his passing when it was announced this past weekend (he apparently died, at age 79, back on May 8th, but the news didn't break for awhile thereafter). He had an appealingly cynical smile, a gruff but engaging manner, could play a cop or a criminal, a hero or a villain and do it with style. I liked him a lot; I've been sad for awhile that he's been less visible in film than I felt he deserved, and a few years ago, hoping I'd just been missing out on some great performances by him, I tried watching a movie - Exit Speed - specifically because it had a late-phase lead role from him. I was underwhelmed - Fred was fine, but the film was pretty routine. So I was sad to see he had died, but with nothing cool to say, I was going to just say nothing.
But then last night, I decided to play Escape from Alcatraz for Erika, in part to mark Ward's passing; I couldn't remember him in it - he plays one of two brothers who teams up with the Clint Eastwood character in the film to break out of the famed prison. It's based on a true story. I also don't have that much to say about it - maybe because it's film that itself doesn't have much to say! - but there's an interesting personal realization that I will get to in a minute. It really isn't MUCH of a personal realization, and it's really about me, not Ward, but first I do want to say a couple of things about the movie...
Escape from Alcatraz is an odd film, in that it exists almost entirely on the surface of its story. Most movies out there - even most Clint Eastwood movies! - are about more than they seem to be; the characters represent something larger than themselves, the action of the film works through some sort of thematic struggle, the climax of the film produces some sort of "meaning" or at least a feeling of emotional closure. Even if the filmmakers are not consciously aware of what they're doing - which is definitely possible - there's almost always a subtext to a film, a level on which meaning is produced that can be extracted if you take a minute to think about it (which, granted, a lot of movie viewers never bother to do, but that doesn't mean the meaning isn't there; apples on a tree remain apples, even if no one ever picks them).
To pick a relevant example, Dirty Harry is not "just" about a cop and a criminal - it's about the antipathy between police and the counterculture at the time of its making, and the pathology of that counterculture, which the film renders in the ugliest terms possible. It revels in the righteousness of the righteous and writhes in disgust at the perversity of the perverse, digging into the hatred of the normal for the aberrant to arrive at a celebration of old-school masculine righteousness over the forces that would constrict, challenge, or undermine it (like having to follow rules or not use racist terms or so forth). I mean, I'm being pretty slapdash here in characterizing it, but there's plenty going on under the surface, which enabled Pauline Kael to describe it as a "fascist" film. If it were just a story about a cop and a killer, if there were nothing below the surface, no wider meanings that it engaged with, that wouldn't be a possible judgment. Of course, you can watch it as if there was nothing more than a cop story going on, but not wanting to think about thematic, political, and psychological aspects to a film doesn't mean that they aren't there - it's kind of an impoverished way to watch a movie. If a story doesn't function beyond its own limitations, doesn't "mean" anything to us, is really and truly "only a story" - why would anyone care about it?
Far as I can see, Escape from Alcatraz is really, really, really about three guys who escape from, uh, Alcatraz. It is perhaps the most meat-and-potatoes movie I have ever seen, a film that is almost all text and no subtext, all plot and no theme. It tells you in the very title what it's about, and accomplishes almost nothing besides realizing that title. We learn nothing about the characters that makes them signify more than their being men in prison - I suppose because any specifics of their criminal pasts or characters might make some audience members squeamish about identifying with them. Plenty is known about the real men who escaped from Alcatraz in 1962... but all we really ever know about their analogues in the film is that they don't like being in prison. What do they want to do when they get out? What relationships or desires or inner struggles drive them? Are they a danger to anyone, or to society, if they get free again? ....The film isn't remotely interested. We see exactly enough of their life in Alcatraz to understand why they want to escape it - from the possibility of gay rape to the excesses of authority to the sheer grey monotony and unpleasantness of life inside, none of which requires much subtlety ("cue the cockroach!" "Cue the rat!" "Now in the shower sequence..."). Perhaps there's a little bit of that "racist words don't mean racist feelings" thing that permeates Eastwood's movies, which crystallizes around his character's relationship to the prison librarian, English - terrifically played by Paul Benjamin, of Across 110th Street. But it's not like there's a secret thesis about race relations in America to be teased out of the movie. As far as I can see, there is utterly nothing else going on in the film, besides the story it is telling; it's the rare example where the question, "What's it about?" can almost entirely be answered with, "Just what it says in the title - an escape from Alcatraz."
Which I'm fine on - once the escape attempt is underway, the film has plenty enough to do just detailing how the men plan to get out, and Siegal keeps things interesting enough visually. But you won't go away with meaty analyses or theories about what it all really means. I mean, I sure didn't, and I'm pretty inclined in that direction.
So what has this all got to do with Fred Ward? Well, the thing is, it was made very early in his career, in 1979. He'd done a bit of TV - was in an episode of Quincy, the year before, which I might have seen as a kid - I liked Quincy! - but otherwise, he'd done nothing else prior that I've seen even to this day. He was in movies called Ginger in the Morning, Tilt, and Hearts of the West, but they remain unviewed by me. He made plenty of films that I saw afterwards - starting with 1980's Southern Comfort, a film I have seen many times and have great love of. But in 1979, he was 27, and just didn't have many films under his belt.
As I was re-watching the film Escape from Alcatraz last night, I remembered seeing it first run, theatrically, I believe at the no-longer-extant Starlight Cinemas in Maple Ridge. And this brings us to my big reveal, the point such-as-it-is of this piece of writing: I can conclude with utter surety that Escape From Alcatraz is the very first movie I ever saw Fred Ward in.
I couldn't tell you the first time I saw most other actors I like. I can't even say with certainty that the first time I saw Brian Cox was in Manhunter, because I may have watched, in high school, the 1971 film Nicholas and Alexandra as part of Henry Bugler's Western Civilization course, and Cox was in it. I think I did see that film as a kid, so then it becomes a question of the order I saw the films in - and I have no clue. I probably saw Sigourney Weaver, Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto, John Hurt, Tom Skerrit and Ian Holm for the first time in Alien, but all of them had done things I could have seen otherwise on TV as a kid. Even Weaver was in Annie Hall, briefly, and I cannot say with any certainty that I hadn't seen that film on TV before I saw Alien on the big screen (also in 1979, but not at the Starlight). Veronica Cartwright I know I saw before Alien, in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, made the year before, but had I already seen The Birds, at that point? No idea - maybe; and it's the same with her co-stars Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy and Jeff Goldblum - I mean, re: Goldblum, that's certainly the biggest early role I ever caught him in, but am I sure I hadn't seen Death Wish or Nashville or, again, Annie Hall on television prior to seeing Invasion, theatrically? Nope.
It becomes surprisingly tricky to make these valuations. Probably the first time I saw Sir Alec Guinness in a film was Star Wars, when I was nine, but I also know I watched The Bridge on the River Kwai and Situation Hopeless... but Not Serious (written by Robert Shaw!) and The Quiller Memorandum on TV with my parents, at SOME point in my childhood, and cannot tell you if that took place pre-or-post George Lucas' smash. With almost any other actor whose work I am long familiar with, I cannot say with 100% certainty what the first movie I saw them in is; it would require someone - like Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz - whose work I have very slight exposure to, who acted in a film I saw theatrically at a very young age - for me to be even remotely sure, and even with Garland - though I do know that I had a very memorable first encounter with The Wizard of Oz, at about age five, also at the Starlight, where my parents had to escort me from the theatre because I saw so traumatized about what those flying monkeys portended for Dorothy - I remember seeing Judgment At Nuremberg on TV with my parents, when I was too young to really understand it. Can I say with certainty that I didn't see her in that before my parents took me to see The Wizard of Oz?
Nope. My wife has an easier time of it, because she wasn't obsessively watching movies on TV as a child - she can say with certainty, for example, that her first exposure to Julie Andrews was Mary Poppins, for example - which she also saw theatrically, at age five, and without the attendant terror of those goddamn flying monkeys. But as deeply as I love cinema - as invested as I have been in it, my whole life - it is actually very, very uncommon for me to be able to say "that first time I saw _______ in a movie, it was __________, in _________."
Unlike the first time I saw Fred Ward; it was in Escape From Alacatraz, in 1979, at the Starlight Cinemas in Maple Ridge.
So that's the interesting thing I have here: unlike with almost any other actor you can name, I can pin down my first exposure to Fred Ward, and got to revisit the film last night. Which I enjoyed doing a great deal, even though - or possibly because - it's as meat-and-potatoes as a movie can be.
That's it. RIP, Mr. Ward.
Saturday, May 14, 2022
So I'm arguing on Facebook about the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh and the obscene display of force shown by the IDF at her funeral procession, which was captured on video and actually made the CBC... when the Saudis killed Jamal Khashoggi there was at least a bit of international focus on them, so let's hope that there's at least as much heat generated here: which may happen, because I don't think journalists like it much when their own get killed; she was shot in the face while wearing a "press" vest in this case. And if that's not bad enough, letting the IDF attack mourners in a funeral procession for her the very next day... jeezus, how did anyone think that that was a good move? Only people very confident that the eyes of the world are not on them would do something like that, so you should put your eyes on it, if you haven't seen footage yet...
...but as upset as I am to see this stuff - arguing about a Facebook friend's "whataboutism" in the face of criticisms of the IDF... truly, I'd rather be sleeping. (No reference to DRI lyrics intended, though it's about one of three songs by them that I do like, the others being "Soup Kitchen" and "Nursing Home Blues." Hey, that Dayglos/ Citizen Rage/ Car 87 show is going ahead at the Rickshaw, did you see, even despite the headliner's Canadian tour being cancelled. I am happy for the Dayglos. I hope people turn out in large numbers - their new album, Hate Speech, is the best thing they've done since Guano, and considerably more topical...). Normally I zonk right out these days - especially given that I ate a high CBD cookie before bed. But nope - I feel utterly no inclination towards sleep. Got up to pee and wet my mouth and now I'm marooned at my computer trying to burn off the midnight oils... at 5:22 AM...!
...But it's not the IDF's fault I'm awake - it's COVIDs. It's not that my symptoms are so bad - they're not, in fact; I continued to hack up phlegm through yesterday evening, but I'm HOPING that my symptoms are clearing. No real brainfog, frequent urination slowing down, no longer feel feverish, hurts a bit to swallow but not that much... I find my saliva is excessively ropy when I wake up and it takes awhile to clear it away, because spitting and swallowing are both challenging for me now (no fellatio jokes, please). And besides all that I feel a little congested, feel a bit of pressure behind my eyes, a bit bleary. But it's not so bad.
Hey, I learned two things that I didn't know today, err, umm, yesterday: there are actually new antivirals - Paxlovid is the best regarded - that can help you if you have severe respiratory conditions or serious co-morbidities. I don't know why it's not prescribed more generally - was told by a doctor today that it would not be appropriate for me, only for people likely to be hospitalized, so I guess I don't need it. But if you have serious respiratory concerns, it might be worth checking out (it should be taken within five days of being symptomatic).
Also, be careful about cough syrups if you come down with COVID. One common ingredient in cough suppressants is called dextromethorphan, and while I gather the studies about it have not been conclusive, indications are that it might actually cause the COVID virus to proliferate. I've intuitively always reached for expectorants, rather than suppressants, and am swigging diluted Nin Jiom as I type this, but my wife had suggested Nyquil the other day, so I did take some of that - actually two nights in a row. It has dextromethorphan in it. I have stopped!
Soon I will finish my nin jiom, attempt another pee and go back to bed. DOXA winners are going to be announced today, btw. But I'll let y'all sort that out. I hope I can sleep.
Friday, May 13, 2022
So in my sickness, I dreamed that Andy Partridge of XTC was doing a signing in Maple Ridge, upstairs at a convenience store on the corner of 222nd and Dewdney - a convenience store that actually exists, that had been a Mac's at one point, then Country Milk, and now... I don't know, but it's a little Korean-run store with groceries and potted plants and porno mags and snacks, half a block from where my Mom and Dad used to live, and only a couple of blocks from where I lived, back when I was taking care of Mom after Dad passed. My parents may have been alive in the dream; their apartment was a feature of the dream. But I don't remember all of the dream, only the key aspects, which were that Andy was doing a signing in this unlikely locale, and I was coming from a trip to Vancouver with a book about XTC for him to sign.
"Ooh, that's a good one," he said when I got to him in line. He signed it and we chatted a bit, long enough that there were murmurs of impatience from behind me in line.
"Will you be here for awhile," I asked him. "Because my XTC records are just down the street... I could go get them. I'd love to have them signed." He said he would, but that if I could, what he would really like was... (I forget, but it was a need I could meet, maybe involving food or drink or something).
I spent the next bit of the dream setting up things for Andy to sign and running around between my parents' apartment and the downstairs "store" segment of the convenience store, arranging some snacks for him (but I had to be careful, because he didn't eat ______ - I forget whether it was meat, dairy or nuts, but I had to make sure any food I brought him was absent this). I also made arrangements with the Koreans downstairs to rent the room above their store, where Andy was staying, which they would let us use for $29.99 a night. Yay! I went upstairs with my XTC vinyl and maybe a poster for him to sign for my friend David M., and broke the news to Andy (who had a bushy, red beard, unlike the real Andy Partridge; my dreams almost always get some things wrong) that he could stay overnight in the room, which was set up like a small apartment. He was very happy, and we were relaxing together, him signing stuff and telling me XTC stories, when he reached out and put a hand on my belly and gave it a little jiggle in a way that clearly indicated he was making a pass at me. (My dream me remembered at that point that Andy was gay; my waking me realizes he is not).
Oh jeez, I thought in the dream. I'm tempted, but I'm going to have to make sure this is okay with my wife...
That's all I remember of the dream. No known bearing on anything that has happened or is happening - I'm not even really listening to XTC at the moment, not contemplating a tryst with a man, not living in Maple Ridge, none of it, and while I guess I do have a bit of an unrealized "sublimated starfucker" aspect, with my enthusiasm for signatures and interviews, I don't feel particularly drawn to Andy Partridge - certainly not sexually.
But dreams have their own way...
Thursday, May 12, 2022
Allan: What will the Hathaway Brothers be doing at Central City? (What's your brother's musical history? Have you been doing stuff with him fora long time?).
Greg: We're going to be having a good time, that's what we're going to be doing! Playing some rock'n roll, reggae, ska and punk/new wave classics with our honorary Hathaway Brothers Blake Annabel (lead guitar) andMellow Friesen (our brotherette) singing a couple of Bowie songs with us. David and I have been playing together on and off in many different bands since we were 13 & 14 years old. I won't say how old we are now, but suffice to say it's been a long musical history for the both of us!
Tell me about Mellow - how long have you been working with her? What was she wearing at the Bowie Ball - the mask? (A tribute to Orville Peck, perhaps?). Will you be doing "I'm Afraid of Americans" at Central City?
I've been working with Mellow for around 6 or 7 years now, but we've known each other for over 30 years. Mellow and I both had fancy masks for the Bowie Ball this year and mine was definitely inspired by Orville Peck, but Mellow's, I'm not sure... Mellow always shines with her own style and always sports the fanciest outfits for the Bowie Ball! Dang, we weren't planning on doing "I'm Afraid of Americans" at Central City, but you never know... that would be kind of fun in this configuration.
Tony Lee, Eric Lowe and Tim Chan just asked me if I wanted to be a part of it and I was like, sure! My history of playing reggae and ska definitely had something to do with it. I think they were looking for a
little "Greggae" vibe on the rhythm guitar! I'm glad to be part of a specifically anti-racism band and there's really a great bunch of positive, fun and talented people involved!
Well, that's hard to say. We put out a handful of albums, many moons ago, and there are definitely songs we play at every show. There's a release called Rootrospective that is a collection of our best known tunes that's available on various online platforms. We've always been a primarily live band, so the best introduction is really to come see us live! As far as a highest point for live shows, there's been so many over the years... we'd sell out the Commodore, weekend nights at theTown Pump, places all over town and were playing sold out shows all across Canada for a few years there. We still (or did recently, before the damnpenic!) play shows at really great music festivals and community halls throughout B.C. and sometimes even venture back to Alberta. I'd have to say that playing the closing slot for the Jazz Festival at David Lam Park on a Saturday evening a few years back was definitely a recent high, or highest point. Also Rogue Fest on the Sunshine Coast in 2019, Denman Island for NYE 2020... can't wait to get out there again!
Has playing with the Asian Persuasion All-Stars opened your eyes to anything you were unaware of, about racism in and around Vancouver, your own attitudes, or so forth? Has it turned you onto any cool music? (Tim Chan seems to have a wealth of musical knowledge, in particular).
I've been very aware of racism since I was a kid growing up in South East Van and am vehemently anti-racist, so I wouldn't say it's opened my eyes to anything, per se. It's always interesting and sometimes astonishing to hear new stories about people's experiences, though.I've supported refugee societies and immigration settlement societies with my music at fundraisers over the years and truly love our multi-cultural society. I will oppose and fight against racism any chance I get. To quote the mighty British poet and songwriter LKJ, "Fascists on the attack, nobody worry 'bout that. Fascists on the attack, we will fight them back". In my own experience, the only trouble I've ever had from neighbours has been with white neighbours!
I'm really, really looking forward to the Rock Against Racism show with DOA on June 4th at the Rickshaw. Love Joe, love DOA, love the Rickshaw and support the fundraising. Roots Round Up has a couple of surprises lined up... RRU has played with DOA many times over the years and this one is going to blow the roof off the place. Playing with Asian Persuasion too just doubles my pleasure!
So today is day three of definitive symptoms - it was clear I had *something* by late Monday night. Tuesday I was pretty sure it was COVID. Wednesday morning I tested - the kits have a level of stupidity to them, with directions that have too much medical-speak, but are actually easy enough to use: you pour a little liquid in a phial, swab your nostrils, stick the swab in the liquid and swirl it around, then put a cap in the phial and put three drops in the little circle at the bottom of the, uh, thingy. If you have one line - no COVID. If you have two lines - COVID. It takes a few minutes to show.
The above is my actual test.
So now I've been meandering around singing "So this is COVID" to the tune of that John and Yoko Christmas tune. Mostly I feel weak and achey. There's a bit of a shivery feeling that sets in if I move around. My throat is a little sore - hurts to swallow - and occasionally, but only occasionally, I am wracked by shallow, rapid-fire coughs. My left nostril is a bit runny but the coughing and nose-blowing I do is not particularly productive, are dry. The most notable symptom for me that people do NOT seem to talk about is frequent and voluminous urination; I get the signal to pee and have to race to the toilet, lest it start before I'm ready, and pee huge quantities of nearly clear fluid. I'm assuming this is my immune system's way of fighting the disease, trying to clear it out. The advice to stay hydrated is pretty darn important, then, because I'm losing a lot of liquid this way.
I have no gastric symptoms (yet). I have no loss of smell or taste (yet). I have no more or less "brain fog" than usual. I've heard people talk about serious lower back pain, but that's not a feature of it for me yet, either. I tend not to sleep very long - I was up at 3 to pee last night - but no doubt I will have no problem with taking a nap later.
And of course, Erika - who was away for the weekend, which is probably when I caught it, but who has been in close quarters with me since Sunday night, when I really didn't believe I had anything --is now starting to feel like she's not totally well, either, though she tested negative yesterday. I'm guessing if we wait one more day, she will test positive; I'm being told by a friend in healthcare that you need to wait a couple of days before symptoms manifest (the kits are free at pharmacies, btw).
Ah well. If it doesn't get much worse than this, I'm not going to have many complaints - it's all pretty mild and manageable, considering the hubbub and the potential for serious sickness - but who knows what the next few days hold.
In other news: found something delightful the other day, something which was already in my record collection, but which I had entirely forgotten or at least failed to appreciate when I acquired it.
I was a big fan, back in the 1980's, of a California band called Tupelo Chain Sex, a jazzy ska-punk unit that had a rep for a great live show, which I consistently missed out on, due to living in Maple Ridge - this was back when there was no transit yoking the 'burbs with the city - as well as my being underage and having no friends who were keen to see them (Maple Ridge was not known for musical adventurousness). I read about them in Discorder, had their albums Ja-Jazz and Spot the Difference, and knew that NO FUN opened for them once, so - as you can find on my blog if you go back a bit - I've been mining David M. for stories, mostly around "Oh To Be on Heroin," a song on Snivel that namechecks fiddler Don "Sugarcane" Harris' prior doo-wop duo, Don and Dewey, because he needed a rhyme for "Louie Louie," "kablooey," "phooey," and so forth. Apparently, David called Harris' attention to the song when Harris and Stumuk - Zappa's carpenter, as I recall - came up front at the Luv-A-Fair (or was it the Arts Club?) to check NO FUN out. I HAD realized, back in the 1980's, from articles I read about them that Harris also had had a history with Zappa, but I didn't really pay great attention to that in my teens and 20's, when I was most enthusiastic about Tupelo Chain Sex. I wasn't in a period of deep Zappa fandom at that point; I had maybe five Zappa albums, including Hot Rats, and may have even registered that the hot electric fiddle on "Willie the Pimp" and "The Gumbo Variations" was Don Harris, but I never really paid attention to his ripping fiddle on those tunes, and never heard Weasels Ripped My Flesh until recently, nor had a clue that Harris sang a song on it. He's also on Burnt Weeny Sandwich, but I didn't ever own that album, either, until recently, or know "Little House I Used to Live In." So while I thought it was cool, even as a teenager, that there was this overlap between Tupelo Chain Sex and Zappa, I wasn't really primed to appreciate it, which changed, sort of, in talking with David, mostly because I thought it was pretty funny that he innocently called Don's attention to a song about heroin, not realizing that Don actually had a problem with that drug.
Anyhow, was gonna spin their best album, Spot the Difference - a ubiquitous item in used record stores, note, one of those great but undersung records that you can usually get for fifteen bucks or less - for Erika the other day. (Kids looking to build vinyl collections are seriously encouraged to check it out!). I don't think I've played in in ten or more years, maybe not since I bought my current copy very early in rebuilding my vinyl collection (I'd long ago sold the copy I bought when it was new back in 1984). I think my current copy was bought at Scratch Records, circa 2007, when the store was on Richards Street, and since I knew it by heart, was simply shelved, unspun.
And here's the thing that I discovered on taking it out: it's signed. I vaguely remember noticing this back in 2007, but not making much of it, especially since it's not signed by, for example, the frontman Limey Dave, who was kind of the "star" of the band for me back in the 1980s. But there on the back, we see Tupelo Joe, Willie Dredd, and... yep, the neat penmanship of Sugarcane Harris, up at the top. I had no idea I had something signed by him - had completely forgotten. He died over 20 years ago, so this is now a treasured possession, one which I didn't even know I owned.
David tells me I should look through my records more often.
Wednesday, May 11, 2022
Teresa Alfeld thus far has three documentaries about Vancouver figures under her belt, including a feature on socialist lawyer and mayoral candidate Harry Rankin, a short on anti-poverty activist and politician Jean Swanson, and - premiering at DOXA on May 15th - on Doug and the Slugs, Doug and the Slugs and Me.
But Alfeld did not actually envision herself, early on, as becoming a documentary filmmaker, she explains on a Zoom call.
“My interest in film school was always in narrative, but I was curious about documentary, and it just so happened that a proposal I’d written many years ago about Harry Rankin to the BC Arts Council for a film was one of my first successful funding applications. I always say I fell into documentary.”
You’d never know it. I’ve only previewed three documentaries for DOXA, but Alfeld’s film, Doug and the Slugs and Me, is by far my favourite (best music doc I've seen since Sparks? Probably). Of course, I’ve been listening to Doug and the Slugs since age 12, when I first noticed Cognac & Balogna on the shelf at a Maple Ridge Pay & Save, shortly after its release (I recall being intrigued by the album cover and title from the gitgo). And as an adult, I saw Doug and the Slugs live three times (twice with Doug and no original Slugs, and once with all the original Slugs but no Doug). I interviewed Simon Kendall about one of the band’s post-Doug concerts and got my albums signed backstage at that show by all the members of the band save, obviously, Doug (though I did get his autograph on a 7" I purchased at Neptoon Records, itself a location for some of Alfeld's interviews). I once even had a weird moment with Doug Bennett in a Maple Ridge men’s room, close to the end of his life (I detail the encounter in my obituary from when Bennett passed, at the tragically young age of 52, in 2004, but it's nowhere near the sort of weird men's room moment that Rob Halford describes in Confess, so don't get your hopes up!).
With that much history with the band, I was predisposed to either love Alfeld’s film, or to find fault with it if she got things wrong. Happy to report that she knocks it out of the park, with tons of stuff I didn’t expect (like Terry David Mulligan having exactly the same assessment of Music for the Hard of Thinking that I do) to Doug himself being tormented, in his journals, by the compromises that began with that record, as the band struggled to break into America and get onto the radio again. There's tons of footage I had not seen, including snippets of the musical Bennett performed in, John Gray's Rock and Roll. Even more surprisingly, there’s also ample music that I flat out did not know about, from the Slugs-without-a-Doug 7” (“Running Around”) to the country album Bennett demo’d, songs from which ended up the Tomcat Records CD Fallen Angel, by Suzanne Gitzi.
It takes some doing to school me in Doug and the Slugs, but Alfeld makes it look easy.
So is Alfeld seeing this as her area, now – to make films about under-sung Vancouver characters? It’s certainly fertile ground, she agrees. “There’s just so many around us, and they never get their due, especially on the national stage. And so it’s been really fun to get to know all these interesting Vancouverites; I’m certainly starting to see common themes that unite people from the west coast.”
As Alfeld and I discuss in our feature interview for Montecristo, Alfeld – who grew up next to the Bennetts and was friends with Shea Bennett, one of Doug’s daughters – had intended to tell the band’s story “with the usual suspects of archival performances and archival photos.” That was until Bennett’s widow, Nancy Hare, entrusted her with a cache of home movies. She also gave the filmmaker access to Bennett’s journals, which span the 1980’s. Both developments are discussed at length in the Montecristo interview, and considerably enrich the documentary.
The journals more or less span the first ten years of Doug and the Slugs existence, but come to an end in 1989. Does Alfeld know why Bennett stopped journaling?
“I have no clear answer,” Alfeld responds. “The family didn’t say that ‘Doug pronounced in 1989 that he was done writing.’ Or, John [Burton, Slugs’ guitarist] or Simon [Kendall, keyboard player] didn’t tell me that Doug had decided to stop writing. They really just peter off. One of the final entries is specifically about Christmas – about how Christmas had been for the family, and how he’d bought some nice new leather pants for Nancy. And then they just end, and I’m left to come to my own conclusions, and the ones that I’ve come to are that the journaling processes – what Doug calls his ‘science project’ – were done with an inkling that the band was about to take off, and by 1989, it was clear to everyone that Doug and the Slugs weren’t going to make in the States, they weren’t going to have that big breakthrough; they would obviously still have a wonderful career into the 1990’s, but Doug and the Slugs were not going to be his main drive anymore. My sense was that he’d become so much more domestic, a family man, and that he didn’t feel right to continue the journals. “
One aspect of Doug and the Slugs not really covered in the film is Bennett's propensity for teasing and torturing audiences. I remember a Facebook friend – sadly, I’ve forgotten who – who reported seeing Doug and the Slugs as a child, and was standing right up at the front, when Doug, seeing the kid had suspenders on (or some other elasticky thing; the deets of the story have faded since I was told it), reached down into the audience, pulled the suspenders (or whatever it was) out from the kid, and then snapped them back, causing a fair bit of pain – which Bennett chuckled merrily at, leaving my Facebook friend fuming that the singer was “a prick” (I believe that was the term the guy used – he was still mad about the episode years later!).
I never saw anything like that – but I did witness, both times I caught him, Doug speculating which female patrons of bars he was playing in were wearing “falsies;” him teasing audience members that men with hats in bars are invariably bald underneath them. And there are other stories out there: Simon Kendall, in the above-linked Straight interview, relays one of Doug venturing into the audience while the band vamped behind him so he could, on-mike, poke fun at the contents of an older woman’s purse that he set to rummaging through. So did Alfeld find footage of things like that, and leave it out of the film – fearing, perhaps, that it would lose audience sympathies for Bennett?
Not so much. Alfeld never saw anything on the level of aggression as the suspenders-snap story, and as for any off-colour moments in performance footage, “the honest answer is, I didn’t encounter anything that made me really uncomfortable, that I felt like I needed to hide. Moreso there was just obviously evidence in Doug’s final years that his health was declining, in performance footage that I didn’t think needed to be out there.”
As for teasing audiences, “I certainly heard stories, too. I think that Doug was always walking a line. But I find that interesting and exciting. I haven’t been privy to anything that crossed a line or made me uncomfortable.”
The film has some very fun footage – especially the stuff at Grandview Lanes, more on which in Montecristo – of Alfeld spending time with the Bennett’s as a child. And she was clearly at one of the Ted Okos-fronted, post-Doug gigs at the Commodore, because there's footage from it in the film (I strained, but couldn't spot myself). But it is unclear if she ever saw Doug himself perform live...?
“I have a very faint recollection of seeing him perform one time at the PNE in Vancouver," Alfeld says. "According to my parents, I would have been five or six, very young. I don’t really remember the show; what I remember was that Shea and I were up at the front of the stage, dancing our little five-year-old asses off, and thinking that we were amazing. That’s what I remember thinking: ‘Wow, we’re the best dancers, how are people even going to pay attention to this band?’”
There will be both streamed and theatrical presentations of Doug and the Slugs and Me starting May 14th, with Alfeld and various Slugs on hand for all three theatrical showings. See the DOXA website (and my Montecristo story!) for more.
Tuesday, May 10, 2022
So whether it is COVID or not it doesn't matter. I am in no rush to confirm with a test, because tests can be misleading, so I'm just acting as if it *is* COVID, because - as of 4:30 AM last night, beyond any denial or debate, I seem to have gotten sick.
Whether it is a cold or COVID, I cannot say - it feels just like a mild cold, at this point. It's the first cold, the first illness (cancer notwithstanding) that I've had since late 2019: all the hand washing, mask wearing, social distancing wasn't for nothing. I've actually kind of forgotten what being sick feels like.
But something's caught me, now. I woke up too hot, with shivers, in a way that made me suspect I might have had a mild fever during the night. I have a swollen, sore feeling in my throat, a small amount of congestion in my sinuses, and a general weak, foggy feeling, combined with a blinky bleariness in the eyes. It really could just be a cold - but it's definitely something. I made Erika breakfast, saw her off to work, and went back to sweat in the bed from about 9 to 11:30. I feel no better, but also do not feel much worse.
It's rather startling to me how many people I know have gotten sick the last few months - Facebook friends, musicians, etc. For the first year of the pandemic, I remember frequent Facebook memes, presumably generated by conspiracy theorists, asking people to report if they actually knew anyone who had COVID - the implication being that the disease wasn't real. Zander Schloss, in my interview with him on Stereo Embers, talks about people chanting in Florida that COVID isn't real, which show was the one he figures he caught his own case at (only Greg Hetson of the band seems not to have had it yet). While I'm *not* given to conspiracy theory, and didn't ever toy with the idea that maybe it was all fake - I did kind of understand where people saying such things were coming from, because through the period of maximum panic about COVID, it seemed very far removed from my peers and I. Barely anyone had it.
By contrast, now, there is barely even mention of COVID on the news, compared to the start of the pandemic; it's all high gas prices, murder, and occasional war-in-the-Ukraine. There's no indication that I've heard of returning to lockdowns or mask mandates or so so forth - maybe I'm just not paying attention to the right places, but the prevailing wisdom seems to be to return to normal as best we can - essentially to pretend that it's all over. Are the numbers good, bad, etc? I don't know. ER's are presumably as crowded as ever; no idea how the ICUs are. But I don't even glower at the maskless on the bus or at the mall, these days, because - though I myself do still wear a mask in indoors public spaces, just to be courteous to others, in case I have the disease and don't know it - there is no rule requiring people to mask up, or do anything else. Some of the old dears who guard the door at thrift stores I go to still insist everyone who come in use hand sanitizer, reflecting a two-year-old model of how COVID spreads, via fomites - but presumably it gives them some feeling of comfort and control; who can begrudge them? Oddly enough, the same stores are no longer requiring people to wear masks - not that they necessarily help to stop the spread of COVID, either. (I have had friends declaim conclusively that they don't, but they still make intuitive sense to me, so...).
Anyhow, how curious, then, the inverse of the above is true: back when there was maximal public concern, almost no one I knew had COVID, but now in the face of minimal public panic and regulation, suddenly half the people I know on Facebook are posting photos of negative test results.
Ah, well. "So it goes," I guess Kurt Vonnegut would say. I'm going to have a coffee and settle into a novel - reading Shaun Hutson's somewhat twisted killer fetus thriller Spawn. I have tons of unfinished writing projects to keep me occupied, too, have my books and my poetry (and movies) to protect me. I'll weather COVID (or this cold, or whatever it is that's found me) as an illness-within-an-illness, as a smaller thing I will get through in the face of a larger picture of recovering from cancer surgery. Hope I can keep my wife from catching it, whatever I've got.
My next two pieces to get published will be a twofold Doug & the Slugs-related interview with documentarian Teresa Alfeld, one part of which will appear here, one part of which will appear... elsewhere. I will break the news when it's online.
Who can complain, when there's quality entertainment to be had?
Friday, May 06, 2022
"Lie on the bed and spit." - Korean proverb.
You know, there might be something wrong with me.
If we trust the portrait painted by Ron Howard - yes, that Ron Howard - of Nobel Peace Prize nominee José Andrés and his NGO, World Central Kitchen, in the film We Feed People, playing at DOXA next week, Andrés - a successful chef and restauranteur - is a remarkable man, a passionate man, a man who has discovered his mission in life, which is to bring food to people who are suffering from disasters around the world, often while bureaucrats haggle amongst themselves, paperwork waits for signatures, and containers of food sit undistributed, far from the hungry and desperate. Beginning more or less with his disaster relief efforts after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Howard portrays Andrés as a legitimate hero, who will even put himself at risk in his mission; early on, we see him get stranded when a truck, carrying meals he's prepared, breaks down on a flooded road, and he and his team need to be themselves rescued, the food likely going to waste (we never really find out, but it's about the only time we see Andrés fail). There is absolutely nothing in Andrés self-presentation, or in Howard's presentation of him, that suggests he is anything less than the real deal; perhaps an impatient man, perhaps even an occasionally angry man, perhaps someone with a bit of tunnel vision, without which he would accomplish far less... but one who cares about people, who has a talent for just ploughing through red tape, and who has founded an organization dedicated to surmounting obstacles that interfere with humanitarian relief reaching those it is meant to reach, occasionally to the apparent embarrassment of government agencies who accomplish less. Filmed in interview with Joe Biden and others, Andrés presents as a larger-than-life hero, at times paying out of his own pocket to get the job done; he's a man who does more good for others in a week than I've done in my entire life, currently on the ground in Ukraine (the film was completed before the war broke out). There is no reason given to doubt Chef Andrés is anything less than this great man....
...but that itself only feeds into my mistrust of this film. I'm vaguely ashamed of it, actually - like it must say something bad about me, that I see someone who is so clearly devoted to doing good, being portrayed in glowing terms, and some inner asshole in me puckers up and farts out a cloud of noxious cynicism: "So with this film, some rich celebrity is basically the subject of a feature-length commercial for his organization, being made by some other rich celebrity; there must be a gimmick, a trick - it's gotta all be some sort of sham." I'd no doubt feel much the same if Howard followed Bono or Bob Geldof or any other celebrity humanitarian around: if Andrés is a gift horse to the world's hungry, I'm the guy who wants to check his teeth - at least to the extent of Googling "World Central Kitchen criticisms," immediately on finishing the film; if he's the bleeding risen Christ, I'm the one who needs to stick his hand in the wound. And the craziest thing about my unwillingness to trust We Feed People to the extent it asks me to is that I actually am pretty sure I'm wrong, that these reactions are about my own personal pathologies, with no reflection on this (great) man at all...
...though at least these pathologies are things I'm not alone in. There's a scene in We Feed People, early in the film, when a journalist in Puerto Rico pretty much accuses Andrés of taking advantage of contracts to feed people to make himself rich, based on criticisms levied at him by FEMA, who were probably just butt-hurt and firing back at Andrés for his own criticisms of them and his own relative efficiency in getting the job done. I found it a bit odd that Howard doesn't dig into the details of the accusation, doesn't himself see fit to investigate beyond letting Andrés answer the journalist's question. Considering that he includes the accusation in the film, it seems lacking that he just takes Andrés at his word without poking around a little - talking to FEMA, for example, maybe even giving them a chance to wriggle out of it (they don't come off that well). "I trust this man, so you have to, too," seems to be the subtext of the moment, but... wait, this is a documentary, right?
Further, there are criticisms that don't even make it into the film: though We Feed People carries its story into COVID, with Andrés bringing food to the deeply affected Navajo nation and transforming some of his New York restaurants into emergency soup kitchens, there is actually nothing said at all about criticisms from 2020 that World Central Kitchen worked too closely with ICE and authorities in Puerto Rico, and with "gentrifiers" and police in their food distribution in New York. Reading between the lines, it does seem possible that these reactions ultimately might just be an example of the pathologies of those levying them - a sort of idealistic leftist puritanism, made by people who are alienated by the chef's capacity to get things done, offended that he has done more than them, or who at least misunderstand the nature of Andrés' work - the nature of his nature, if you will: that he is prioritizing getting food to people, and probably would use whatever organizations he could to meet his aims. (I mean, we gather that after the Kobe earthquake in Japan in the mid-1990's, the first people on the ground with humanitarian aid were actually the Yakuza; Japanese organized crime, whose own lack of bureaucracy made them very effective at helping, compared to the Japanese government. You get the impression that Chef Andrés would have worked with them, too, if he'd been there). Still, pathological or not, these criticisms made it into the Washington Post, among other papers, and are what come first if you Google "World Central Kitchen criticisms," as I did, and as such, probably should have been dealt with a bit. I can see Howard not wanting to bog down his documentary in leftist backbiting, especially backbiting that surely must have occurred very late in the filmmaking process, but given that I felt my own (likely irrational and baseless) mistrusts here, to not mention these sorts of reactions makes the film seem less than objective, not a documentary but a breathtaken, bought-and-paid-for hagiography. I am wary of those, and the ultimate effect is that I was reluctant to climb on board, which is clearly not the effect Howard wanted to have on his audience; by coming from a place of apparent absolute trust, Howard has had the opposite effect on at least one audience member. (Ironic in this context that the phrase "non-serviam" comes to mind...).
My wife, beside me on the couch, felt none of these things, apparently, when I checked in with her afterwards, and seemed to eye me a bit suspiciously, which may be an entirely appropriate response. II mean, whatta I know? I had not followed José Andrés and World Central Kitchen before now. I was impressed even despite myself with Andrés impatient, eyes-on-the-prize devotion to his cause, enjoyed that even after the one failure depicted, mentioned above, he still had his customary cigar as he was whisked to safety; and I was truly impressed by the enormous quantity of really beautiful looking food we see prepared, packaged, and delivered. Chef Andrés makes feeding people in the hundreds of thousands look easier, prettier and tastier than my own attempts to feed two. So this is probably a great man, and a great cook, doing great things with his talents. But We Feed People tries a bit too hard to convince you of that, when a more measured approach might have been ultimately more convincing, at least for a mistrustful sonofabitch like myself.
I should just "stop doubting and believe," as Christ tells Saul, but first I'd have to stick my hand in the wound, and I don't want to get my hands dirty...