Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Raymond Chandler garage sale, plus NO FUN, Pink Steel, and a productive way to spend some downtime

Still on break for a few days, in terms of actually working on articles, but that doesn't mean I can't put one thing up for fun! 

I am heretofore creating a term for a garage sale where you find cool things you actually want, at a price you can actually afford - the kind of garage sale you tell your friends on social media about, the kind of garage sale that makes up for months of garage sales that have been all baby clothes, lug wrenches, crockpots and encyclopedias. This heretofore will be known by me as a "Raymond Chandler Garage Sale," riffing on Robyn Hitchcock's use of "Raymond Chandler" as an adjective and referencing the possibility that you will soon end up reading a Raymond Chandler novel that you bought there for a dollar, as I now am. 

I mean: it couldn't have come at a better time. I had just watched the 1944 Raymond Chandler film Murder, My Sweet and the 1975 film Farewell, My Lovely - both adaptations of the second of the two novels in the photo above, despite the different titles - with an eye towards comparing them. Having allowed myself a little time away from transcribing interviews and doing more "music journalism"-type blogging, I was actually casting about for a book I might read - allowing myself a bit of precious actual downtime, unlike the strangely worklike downtime of the last couple of months - so reading the Chandler had actually sprung to mind as something I might want to do, but for the book to spring to HAND as well - for a mere dollar! - well, that's something that was meant to be.

It's really interesting, by the way - really instructive. Both films contain certain key elements of the novel - a big thug named Moose Molloy, having just been released from prison, is looking for his girlfriend Velma, and hires Philip Marlowe to find her (Dick Powell in the 1944 film, looking a little bit LIKE Raymond Chandler, really, and Robert Mitchum in the 1975); Marlowe also gets enlisted in the hunt for a stolen jade necklace. Both films have these plotlines intersect, but place different weight on each and have rather different beginnings and endings.

The 1944 film takes the most liberties with Chandler. I haven't finished the book yet, but based on the 1975 film and what I've read so far, it seems to add a female character (ending on a kiss, akin to the tacked-on happy ending of Thieves' Highway) and to place more weight on the hunt for the stolen jade. It also softens what seem to be a couple of key themes in the novel (or at least themes which seem to be emerging as I enter it): that of race relations and that of  police laziness. The first stop in the search for Moose's girlfriend, a nightclub called Florians (run by a big Greek-looking fella in the 1944 film) has become, in the book, an exclusively black club, and there is a conflict between Moose and the owner of the club who ends up dead at Moose's hands. This is present in the 1975 film, but it is presented less dramatically than in the book, where the tension is such that Marlowe and Malloy are initially told as they enter that they won't be served ("No white folks, brother. Jes' fo' the colored people, I'se sorry" - from page 240 of the Modern Library edition). 

Now, I'm no expert in the history of American racism, but this from my present remove seems like it might be a historical inaccuracy, or perhaps even a perverse inversion of how segregation actually worked; I imagine the white clubs that refused to serve black people vastly outnumbered the black clubs that could even consider refusing to serve white people. But the book still seems defensible in its depiction of race relations, more an observer of human ugliness than an active participant; its black characters are presented matter-of-factly and sympathetically. Marlowe does use the "N-word" when talking with cops and such, but also shares a bottle with a black man he pumps for information and has no apparent judgements about him or anyone based on their skin colour, while there is clearly subtle judgement of the cops for being relatively uninterested in a crime in which a black man is killed. There's no sense of gleeful taboo-violation that you might find in Tarantino or Ellroy, in digging into what I presume was somewhat hushed-up, societally; if anything, Chandler seems a bit sad to find society thus. But like I say, there's no trace of this theme in the 1944 version, and even the 1975 film softens things a fair bit. 

What both films omit, compared to the novel, is the cops' dependency on Marlowe to do their dirty work for them. Murder, My Sweet sets a trope in motion that you see in countless other detective thrillers, by which the detective is always two steps ahead of the cops, who treat the detective like a snooping busybody, interloping outsider, and possible suspect (the beginning of Murder, My Sweet begins with an interrogation scene, seen in the poster above, that I assume was the direct inspiration/ granddaddy of the interrogation scene that opens Nobody, among other films).  

Chandler, again, actually goes quite a bit further in his disrespect for the powers that be than either film dares. While in all three versions of the story - the Chandler and the two films - Marlowe does actually co-operate with and help the cops where he can, in the book, the cops are depicted as being somewhat indifferent to the case, encouraging Marlowe to investigate it and pumping him for information as an alternative to investigating the case themselves (Marlowe grouses to himself - this on page 277 - that there are "seventeen hundred and fifty cops in this town and they want me to do their leg work for them!"). 

There are things that both films do very well, mind you. The 1944 seizes on a particular aspect of Chandler, the language, and condenses the snappy, cynical repartee and vintage street slang - like taking "a nibble" for having a drink of alcohol - until the narration and dialogue become something akin to what you see in Brick, a highly-stylized pastiche of hardboiled detective writing (yes, I realize Brick was playing with Hammett, not Chandler). It takes no interest in Chandler's world-weariness, his despair, his cynicism about humanity; it makes a glib, fast-talking entertainment out of a story that is actually fairly sad and despairing, but it DOES pack in almost every "cute" line in the novel, like the screenwriter went through the book with a highlighter for each choice phrase and used his notes to tag them to the revised plot. These lines ARE a very fun part of reading Chandler, but are spread throughout the book; so you pause for a moment in amusement ("Ha, ha, my bank account was 'trying to crawl under a duck,' now that's a way to put it... I been there...") and then read several pages before you get to the next. Murder, My Sweet boils away the beet to make sugar, so to speak - or choose your metaphor of distillation, but it has more in common with cocaine, whiskey, and sugar than it does with Chandler's downbeat, exhausted, and slightly pissed-off prose, even though it was originally taken from Chandler.

So it's not really a faithful adaptation, and it might date the film or ruin any sense of naturalism, but on the other hand, it is surely one of the most entertaining narrations ever given any film, noir or otherwise. It's almost comedic, almost meta-level, like Miller's Crossing is to its sources in Hammett (I won't confuse matters by talking about The Big Sleep and The Big Lebowski, even if that is actually a Chandler novel the Coens adapt). Add that to the happy ending and Murder, My Sweet is a pretty lighthearted film, considering the amount of death, avarice and corruption on display.

Weirdly, considering LSD had only been synthesized about six years before, and psychedelia was not a very big part of popular culture, Murder, My Sweet boasts what is perhaps the greatest - or at least the most entertaining - drug trip scene in film noir? It's never clear what hallucinogen Marlowe is given, or what "research" the filmmakers conducted in deciding what the trip should look like, but it's a wild little ride, quite a bit more outlandish, entertaining, and protracted than the adjacent scene in the 1975 film. Ooh, streamers!:

But the 1975 film, while less "fun," seems actually vastly more faithful to the Chandler novel. Mitchum seems tired - tired of life, tired of corruption, tired of the injustices he sees around him, vastly more of which make it onto the screen. There's still some things that get condensed and/or omitted, and I'm only a third of the way into the book, but the mood and tone are very recognizable between the book and the '75 adaptation. The narration is nowhere near as fun - they mostly put down the highlighter, tho' a few especially fun images (like the bank account and the duck) remain; but they're presented vastly less playfully - like, it's a cute turn of phrase, in either film, but only in the 1975 film do you capture a sense that Marlowe is broke. 

What's odd is, while I appreciate how much more faithful it is to the source text, it actually feels quite a bit more dated than the 1944 film, a little harder to accept. The increased naturalism grates against the fact that the private eye genre was always kind of meant to be a romantic entertainment. Maybe that's partially because of how cinema conditioned us, but having been raised on the sugar-rushing, stylized snappiness of Murder, My Sweet and its ilk, Farewell, My Lovely actually is harder to digest. I bet the French ate it up. 

Anyhow, it was a good garage sale to be at! A member of the Calgary punk band the Mandates - pretty good for you Dolls-worshippers out there, kinda akin to our Spitfires, sold me three volumes of Songs the Cramps Taught Us (complimenting two I already had, and leaving me in need of only volumes 6 and 7) and a Bloodstains Across Canada, which a) I was unaware existed, b) is some sort of bootleg, and which c) had songs by both NO FUN ("Now I Ain't Got No Face," one of their strongest "punk" songs. from the Fall for a Cliche 7") and Pink Steel ("Some of the Things That You Do" - which is actually available legitimately via the Supreme Echo website). 

Of course, I saw Pete of Pink Steel and David of NO FUN this past Monday (see previous post, and or this video of Pete's band and this of David's, though in this case both of them are in the other, if that makes sense and doesn't sound too dirty) at that free music-in-the-park thing, so I got them to sign the album, even though it was a bootleg. Pete's joke is self-explanatory; David's is replicating Jim Hamelin's scream. 

And that wasn't all, either: the Mandates guy gave me a free copy of his album, which I dig, but I think I'm gonna give it to Billy Hopeless with this Angels record I got for him (an Australian version of their greatest hits, with songs like "I Ain't the One" and "Save Me" that never made their Angel City releases) because it seems like it would be more Billy's cup of tea than mine (I mean, I don't even own any Johnny Thunders!). Plus I tried out a few CDs, both at this garage sale and another, and discovered that Tupelo Chain Sex's "The Game" begins with the riff on a jazz tune, "Billie's Bounce," which  (not being a big bop guy) I had never heard before. Charlie Parker wrote it but the Tupelo Chain Sex version is note-for-note following the George Benson, at least at the start). 

Anyhow, it was a pretty good garage sale and a great show Monday, too. I'm still a bit wiped out from making writing feel too much like work, but I'm going to go back to the Chandler novel now. Very curious to see how the theme of Jade will be introduced. Incidentally, if you decide to watch the 1975 film based on my recommendation, note that the reclusive, rich jade collector is being played by another hardboiled crime great, Jim Thompson. I don't think I realized that, last I saw it. 

Hey, Pete, David and I are both being told online that you and he should do a show in Victoria! Y'all should set something up. I thought your guitar solos were especially enjoyable the other night! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

No, really, taking a break - plus NO FUN in the Park, and upcoming NO FUN vinyl!

Back to insisting I am taking a break. I look at my Facebook friends and go, "Who among these people do I even know?" I look at my backlog and shudder. And the idea of taking on another big writing project at this juncture is horrifying to me, just horrifying! 

I do have some things I'll post over the next few months - backlog clearers, things I did for Germany that never saw light here, a few other commitments and surprises. But right now I am going to take a walk. Seems like a good day for it. 

Hey, didja all know that there are going to be NO FUN vinyl releases coming up on Atomic Werewolf, starting with a 7" of "Be Like Us" and "Work, Drink, Fuck, Die?

David M. has very little to do with it but he endorses it. He'll be playing - or, well, NO FUN, as it is now constituted, on August 29th, free show at Queens Park in New West. David Dedrick and Pete Campbell, below, will also be there, and I think Pete is gettin' ambitious to do some of his own songs again. It's been awhile since I heard a Pete Campbell original at an M. show, unless "Claus Will Tear Us Apart" counts. I don't think it will be on the set this time. 

I did request that M. play "You Need Your Tongue to Stand Up," written in honour of the late, great Paul Leahy, who used that phrase once in the context of his own cancer experiences. And I, myself, in recovering from my tongue surgery, did fall down once, on the way between the bathroom and bedroom this past spring around 3 in the AM. Freaked the hell out of my wife and made a thud I am sure my neighbours would have heard. Anyhow, the song seemed like a good one to request, and he's apparently workin' on it. 

Anyhow, y'all should come. NO MORE BLOGGING TIL SEPTEMBER! 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

On the Musicians of Red Cat - a few outtakes and behind-the-scenes stories

My new Montecristo story is out, on the musicians of Red Cat Records. It's the fourth story that I have done for the magazine that focuses on Vancouver's independent record stores. My Clash story from a couple of years ago had Zulu Records woven into it, including interviews with Grant McDonagh; part two of my Cave story (part one here) had fairly long interviews with Rob Frith of Neptoon, including a photograph of him as a younger man (and both parts took advantage of his wonderful trove of memorabilia); and a story I did just before I set out on a year of surgery recovery (still ongoing) dug back into the glory days of Vancouver's Record Row, mostly centering on Collector's RPM.  I don't know that I have an Audiopile story in me (sorry, guys!), and Metrotown's Sunrise Records (managed by a former staff member at Red Cat!) is probably too much of a chain store for Montecristo (tho' Ty, said former Red Cat staffer, does a bang-up job curating it; it's the only Sunrise that doesn't feel like a typical "mall record store" and probably the record store I shop at most frequently, these days, because it's a ten minute walk from my apartment). There aren't any other record stores I regularly shop at, unless you count thrift stores. (I do sometimes hit Hooked on Phono for punk and metal reissues that have sold out elsewhere, and encourage other people to do the same, but, like, I think that's been a matter of two visits this year. And I used to poke in at Redrum Records New West every few weeks, but the building they are in is getting demolished, so they shut their doors for good on August 15th, and while I have gone out to their White Rock location when an album I was looking for turned up on their searchable website, I'm trying NOT to shop for records these days, so...). 

Anyhow, Red-Cat-wise, I ended up with a few outtakes! These are presented below, like a parallel, less well-written article for your reading pleasure, with a Red Cat photo that Montecristo did not use, where you can get a sense of the colours people were wearing when Gord went down to take pictures, a mere six days ago. (How did he manage to get far enough across the street that you can see the whole store, but still have his shadow in it?! Was he standing on something? It's actually a little weird!). 

Note: ironically, given that Dave and Ford were the "stars" of my interviews, I used almost everything Luke, Nen, James, and Penny gave me, since there was a lot less of it; so what follows is all from Ford and Dave... 

Oh, and also note that Dave namechecked one of Pier's favourite Canadian bands the Rheostatics as an ideal touring partner for the Buttless Chaps - the best fit, musically - but most of that quote got used in the Montecristo piece so the rest of it is kinda unusable now. Finally, he tells me that he's booked some studio time for February, so he'll be back at making music soon enough...

Red Cat staff and store, by Gordon E. McCaw, not to be reused without permission

The Musicians of Red Cat Records: Alternate Take (to be read after you've read part one).
by Allan MacInnis

Ford Pier goes way back with Red Cat owner Dave Gowans, including the odd appearance on albums by the Buttless Chaps, Gowans’ old band. “I was a fan the first time I heard the Buttless Chaps and I saw them often,” Pier explains via email. “We had many mutual friends in Victoria, and I first met Dave and Lasse [Lutick, Buttless Chaps’ guitarist and former Red Cat co-owner] sometime around when they were recording Death Scenes at Scott Henderson’s studio [circa 2001], before they all moved over to Vancouver and parked themselves at the Sugar Refinery, years prior to them buying Red Cat.”

Besides his guest appearances on Chaps' records, Pier tells me, "I also played keyboards with Dave’s post-Chaps band Cloudsplitter for a couple of shows. I sometimes played drums with Amy Honey, who was one of the original owners, and Gregory Macdonald, who used to work at the store and is now in Sloan, played in Carolyn Mark’s band at the same time as me. I don’t remember anybody else working at Red Cat that I played with regularly. My bands have shared bills with Penny’s bands several times, of course, all over B.C. and Alberta."

As a touring musician, Pier has been on the road for weeks at a time since he began his employ at Red Cat in 2008, setting up tours himself, for the most part. "I book all my own field work" is how he puts it, adding that he is "always happy to have help when it’s offered, or to have someone else’s touring schedule I can latch onto - and this has the advantage that I can request the exact period I need off well in advance and not have things sprung on me. Certainly, I've made it a priority to book absences from the store during periods when we weren't going to be super busy getting ready for big sales like Record Store Day or whatever, or when those of us with families and school schedules to think about weren't going to be needing vacation time."

Ford's recommendation - when I was shopping for Buttless Chaps records at Red Cat, in the name of research - was to pick up Love This Time, which I did. I also grabbed Where Night Holds Light, because I had seen and liked the odd little video that the band did for the title track.

Asked about that video, Dave explained that it was filmed “right behind Lasse’s house in Northern BC”–near Grassy Plains—and that was where we would go to write music. Torben [Wilson], the drummer, was from there as well – they grew up as kids together. So we decided to go up and film the video there."

At one point during the filming, Gowans was on the back of a snowmobile, zipping across a frozen lake, and “we broke through the ice. [The driver] just started laughing as it was sinking; and he gunned the snowmobile, and it came out. I was freaking out, and he was like, ‘Ah, it happens all the time.' Because people are different up there, they’re so in tune with the wild—bears and wolves and, y’know, falling into freezing water. I was not!”

What exactly was going on, narratively, in the video? I had a hard time making sense of it. "I think the whole idea was that I go through this door, I’m lost, and I just basically find community and safety, and when I go back through I’ve understood that the whole meaning of existence is to have friends and family around you.”

Dave liked that I appreciated the friendly vibe at Red Cat, which has always been my favourite thing about shopping there; the staff are very welcoming. “That’s important to hear,” Gowans says. As a record shopper, he explained, “it always made a difference when people were nice. And we’ve managed to have a bunch of people who work here who have been here a long time. They work really hard, but they like coming to work. It’s a small staff, and I think going through COVID and the stress of being a retail store during that time, we’ve managed to stick together."

Ford also chimed in on the concept of "friendly-happy," as he put it. "There’s a mode that’s been established, and incompatible attitudes will tend to get weeded out or altered. Anyone who’s stayed at the store for long has done so because they’re a good fit personality-wise." Here's hoping that my article does nothing to disrupt the feeling.

But really, what I wanted more than to write the history of Red Cat was to find out how the hell the Buttless Chaps got their name - a question I bet Dave hasn't had to explain in a few years, at least. Sadly, his story ended up not making the cut for the Montecristo piece, when word counts became a factor, because it took us too far afield from the story, and because it could be glossed over with the observation that it started as a joke (true, but there's a lot left out). 

It started when they found out that their original name, Trailer Park, was taken, Gowans explained to me during our backroom chat. “We were sitting in a place called the Cherry Bank Hotel in Victoria, and we were, like, ‘What are we going to call the band?’ And there was a picture on the wall of a guy in buttless chaps and a cow skull with pool balls in its eye sockets, and I was like – jokingly – ‘I dunno, we could call ourselves the Buttless Chaps?'”

His bandmates laughed, and they had a temporary name.

“Then [Victoria singer/ songwriter] Carolyn Mark said, ‘Hey, do you want to open for my band the Fixin’s?’ And we had played her open stage as the Buttless Chaps, but we said, ‘We’re going to change the name,’ and she said, ‘Well, you can’t play if you change the name– because I like the name!’ Then Monday Magazine wrote a really nice review about us… it just sort of stuck, and it became this icebreaker when we got onstage: ‘Hey, we’re the Buttless Chaps!’”

John Cassavetes and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie: Paying the Price for Your Art (a Tom Charity interview, with my own reflections on John Cassavetes)

I file the work of John Cassavetes - the films he made as director, that is - into seven categories. Which is quite a few, considering that, as director, he only made twelve feature films. The categories (and the films in them) are: 

1. The Cassavetes film that is most important to me, historically: Husbands. 

Saw Husbands on late night TV at age eleven. It fascinated me - it was so raw, so exuberant, so filled with emotion and honesty that even as a kid I was impressed. It was the film that got me obsessed with tracking down other films by Cassavetes, which was not easy to do - few had come out on VHS, and those that had were not at any video store in Maple Ridge when I was growing up.  I have no idea what I make of it now, actually - watching it as an adult, it's a difficult, demanding, problematic, self-indulgent, uncomfortable film that no longer seems like it has answers, which is not how it felt when I was a teenager. Still, it was the film that set the bar for me for what a movie should/ could/ can/ ought to do: to dig into human emotion and drag it kicking into the light, to bust through people's defenses and confront them with real feeling and make them vulnerable to change. Whether I ever actually see the film again, it had a huge formative impact on me. And not just on my relationship to cinema: I'm kind of afraid to show it to my wife, lest she recognize some of me in the film's characters...   

2. The Cassavetes film that I think is objectively his greatest: Faces. 

A harrowing masterpiece about a couple, on the verge of divorce, who each go off on their own "wild nights" in pursuit of some sort of emotional freedom and self-realization that neither end up finding, Faces is energetic enough in how it tackles the traps its characters are in that I never really found it depressing, though friends of mine sure did. Being much closer in age to its characters now, I'm a bit scared to revisit it, but I'm still full of admiration for it, and suspect that, European arthouse be damned, it was Faces that, like the hand reaching down from the heavens to tune the monochord of the universe on the cover of the Harry Smith anthology, gave birth, more than any other single film, to the New American Cinema, setting the tenor for so many films of the 1970's - that without Faces, you wouldn't have Scorsese or Coppola or Altman or Penn or Schatzberg or...  It's my pick for the greatest movie ever made in America: a film shot on handheld cameras in the filmmakers' home, with a cast mostly made up of his friends and, of course, wife (Gena Rowlands at her loveliest). 

3. The Cassavetes film that I love beyond all others, have the deepest personal attachment to: Love Streams.

Love Streams - very much Cassavetes' goodbye to cinema, even if he made one other movie after it was completed - is his sweetest, funniest film (but it takes awhile to get to the sweet and funny parts - it starts out seeming pretty harrowing, too, but you reach a sort of surreal transcendence about the time Gena starts bringing the animals home). This is the Cassavetes film that first saw me interviewing Tom Charity, sixteen years ago. It's also a film I'm still annoyed with Criterion about, for having snipped a brief bit of nudity from their release of it. This relates to news I broke in regard to the 2006 screening, years before the Criterion blu got announced, which I was shocked to see ended up being the same. I took it up with them on their website, they justified themselves, pointing to Michael Ventura as support, despite his book on the making of the film painting quite a different picture of the filming of the scene in question than they suggested. Then they removed the whole discussion; all that remains is me, crying in the wilderness on my blog. 

I still love the film. I have a French DVD of it, which does contain the missing few seconds, though I can't play it at the moment because of region coding. And I did buy the Criterion blu-ray, though I think tinkering with a filmmaker's works after his death is wrong. Cassavetes had enough trouble with that during his own lifetime. Criterion is supposed to be better than that, and I'm sad that they have continued the tradition past his death. 

4. Cassavetes films that are perfectly made but not personally that important to me. A Woman Under the Influence,  Shadows, and probably Opening Night. I probably enjoy A Woman Under the Influence more than any of the others in this category, and have seen it three or four times. But I didn't go to the VIFF Centre screenings. I would probably have watched the original cut of Shadows if Criterion had released that with their box set, because, I mean, I've read Jonas Mekas, in Movie Journal, talking about it with great enthusiasm, and have always been curious to see what he meant: according to Mekas, the original cut was the "experimental film" version, which Mekas felt Cassavetes betrayed by re-editing it and shooting new material to make it something more narrative. It floors me a bit that Criterion (supposedly) had the opportunity to put it out and declined to do so. I generally like Criterion and I'm glad they've put out Cassavetes' films but there's been some weirdness around a couple of them, especially where Ray Carney is involved, but the whole story there may never come to light; as far as I know, he was basically thrown off the Cassavetes box set and given what I've always read as an insulting fuck-you goodbye - the hidden "Jimmy Crack Corn" in the box, which seems to riff on Carney's jiminy-cricket appearance. I was interacting with Ray at the time and know that his being dumped caused him great distress, but I have only heard his side of things, which also involved a feud over who owned the original, short version of Shadows, which, precursor to l'affair Rappaport, Ray refused to give to Faces International, alleging that they might destroy it. We only have his version of events, if any of that is still online, along with his detective story of how he came to be in possession of that early cut, which I have come to suspect a bit; he was also pretty publicly ad-fucking-hominem against Gena for awhile, there, and... well, anyhow... it was a mess, with the largest loss being that the wider public will probably never see that original version of Shadows. It's a shame. 

5. "Lesser works." I like Gloria, in fact - but it's a small film, for Cassavetes. Minnie and Moskowitz, which I did revisit when it screened a few weeks ago, ultimately sort of fits in this category too. Both are enjoyable but neither accomplish very much on their own; they're entertaining in their own right, sure, but their real value lies in their relationship to Cassavetes' larger body of work, not anything singular they accomplish in and of themselves.  

6. Compromises and "failures." Cassavetes made a few films that were not really "his" films, where he didn't get final cut, where he struggled with commercial expectations and himself emerged dissatisfied. A Child is Waiting is the best of them, in terms of being a pretty good commercial "issue" movie about a novice teacher (Judy Garland) working at a home for developmentally disabled children run by a stern senior teacher (Burt Lancaster) whose methods she is at odds with. But Cassavetes is supposed to be about much, much more than making "pretty good commercial movies" and - to my recollection - basically disowned the final version of this film (the Kino Lorber release of it features a commentary track with Tom Charity, btw). Too Late Blues is less watchable, but may be the more interesting, if you think about it, starring pop idol Bobby Darin as a musician struggling with the temptation to compromise (Carney has argued that the film is sort of a metaphor for itself, that Cassavetes' own compromises are given voice by Darin's character; maybe. Think that was in American Dreaming? I don't presently have a copy of the book, but it was the first published work of serious film scholarship about Cassavetes). I am not sure whether Cassavetes had final cut or not, for this, but it's a film that falls apart all over the place, the second-least film Cassavetes ever made. And there's Big Trouble, a silly spoof of Double Indemnity that Cassavetes stepped in to complete as a favour to star Peter Falk, when - if memory serves, the previous director dropped out or was removed or such. It isn't really worthy of discussion, is noteworthy only in that it's a shame that it gets to be a great filmmaker's final film, especially after the poignant goodbye to cinema that he gives us at the end of Love Streams.  

7. Then there's The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, both cuts, standing alone, uncategorizable, un-processible, apparently no matter how often you watch them. That's how it feels to me, anyhow. To categorize either, I'd have to create a category for Cassavetes films that I just don't get, the "it might just be me" category. Which cut is better? Do either of them really work? Have I just been watching them all wrong? Is there a time in my life when I will sit down to this movie and the scales will fall from my eyes and I will see it as a masterpiece? Maybe this will be the week! I've seen the film half a dozen times, in one cut or the other, and still feel like my work with it is not done. I can recognize that there are moments of great power in both the long 1976 cut and the more streamlined 1978 cut, and some great performances, too. It's fun watching Seymour Cassel as a tough guy, and I've always enjoyed Timothy Carey and found his character in this film - an ambivalent, sentimental, maybe even weak gangster - strangely affecting, and - along with Saint Jack, a great Peter Bogdanovich film with which Bookie been paired as part of the upcoming screenings - think Cosmo Vitelli  (presumably the namesake for Clash manager Kosmo Vinyl) is one of Ben Gazzara's best roles ever, one of the characters he was born to play. 

And what's weirdest about my not "getting" this film is that I think I understand what the film is doing, understand the theme, which I think Gazzara himself lays out very clearly in one of the box set extras: the survival of the artist against the petty, greedy forces behind the scenes that would drag him down or compromise his vision. I applaud that, think it's a great premise, a great theme to mine. But understanding what a film is about is not the same thing as knowing how to enjoy it. The trouble is, the burlesque shows at Cosmo's club, the Crazy Horse West - the "art" that becomes a life or death matter for Cosmo - are just... so...  fucking... ridiculous, spilling over the edges of the film, sabotaging the grim, desperate mood that the more "gangstery" bits in the film establishes so well. The cringeworthy, weird baaaadness of the routines (and, god help me, the performances of Mr. Sophistication) undercut your ability to root for Cosmo; you can't identify with him or feel for his challenges or cheer on his survival because on some level, the art he's fighting for is very clearly not worth what it costs. Is Cassavetes being self-deprecating, self-sabotaging, self-mocking, or some combination thereof? You can understand that he can't make Cosmo too much of a hero, lest the filmmaker seem to be just flattering himself, or indulging in self-pity ("See how I suffer for my art!")... but it may simply be setting the bar too high for him to ask us to feel for Cosmo's struggles when it seems like he's just deluding himself - when his "art" is just ludicrous crap. 

Maybe Tom Charity can help me. For the following interview, I'm in italics, Tom is in bold. 

Allan: Where does
Bookie fit in your list of Cassavetes films? How many times have you seen it (long cut/ short cut?) It sounds like you started with the short cut - that the longer version was unavailable when you wrote Lifeworks? Did you end up with a sort of baby-duck fondness for the shorter version? Did you have a choice of the short cut or long cut, in trying to program it? Did you deliberately opt for the short?
The program guide makes it sound like the long cut was a mess and the long cut was a masterpiece, but I don't know if you wrote that, and I do not know that I would go there, myself; last I checked, I kind of preferred the long version - it's more work, more sprawling, but also feels truer to the intent of the film - the short cut makes it "more like a genre film," no?

Tom: When I wrote my book on Cassavetes in 1999 this was the hardest chapter for me to write. In the UK by that time (and I think in North America too) the film had been completely reevaluated and was definitely seen as a key Cassavetes movie - a complete reversal from the way it was received in the 70s. And to be honest I struggled to get onto its wavelength.

The only version that was available to me was the shorter 1978 recut. This is the version that played on the Rep circuit in London, and was available on VHS... I forget if there was a DVD of it back then, too. I believe the first time I saw the original '76 cut was in the Cassavetes retrospective at the National Film Theatre in London which I curated along with the publication of my book. (Obviously things are very different twenty years later: the alternate cuts are both available on the Criterion releases of the film for instance, and no doubt you could track down a pirate stream too.)

Seeing the longer version made the movie much more accessible to me, and if I was forced to choose between them, I might opt for it. That said, this is a very complicated choice. Unlike most director's and extended cuts, the two films are radically different: there are different scenes, but also different takes of the same scenes. I think in the longer '76 cut the narrative is easier to follow. But also it's more digressive with a lot more Crazy Horse West "colour". I like the early scenes with Seymour Cassel in this version. But I also think the burlesque sequences go on too long, so personally I would like a hybrid version of the two.

In writing the book I talked to lots of people who worked with John on the film, including producer/DP Al Ruban, Michael Ferrris who operated the camera, Bo Harwood who did the music, and Seymour Cassel who is in the movie. And I would ask them about the two versions. It was pretty split between those who preferred the longer and the shorter version. I think Seymour said, with John, more is always better - but then there is more of Seymour in the longer cut, so take that with a pinch of salt.

But it was clear from these conversations that Cassavetes was much more hands-on in the editing of the '78 cut. In that sense, it is a true director's cut (and one of the rare director's cuts that is shorter than the release). So I think in programming the film, and not having the capacity in this context to programme both versions, one should respect the filmmaker's final cut.

It is still a problematic film for me but in a productive way. I think it wants to be a genre film and it doesn't. It was born of conversations between John and Scorsese, and you can imagine the story working as a Scorsese picture. I think if you look at the mise-en-scene, it's a marked departure from what Cassavetes was doing up to that point: he's framing scenes with more calculation, he's playing with colour, he's engaging with the aesthetic tropes of the gangster movie. But the movie also keeps stopping to watch these performers on the stage of the Crazy Horse West... It's as if the camera is entranced by Mr Sophistication and the De-lovelies. For myself, in the recut, less really is more when it comes to these scenes.

I like how in the '78 version he strips out a lot of the connective tissue that we expect from genre storytelling in a way it feels very modern, and which, paradoxically, makes it function more smoothly on that level. And it becomes this existential drama about a half baked showman who is in so far over his head even the audience can't gauge the extent of his problems.


Did you ever figure out who the robber in the Seymour Cassel anecdote was? ...For those who don't know it - Tom relates in Lifeworks Seymour Cassel's story of returning from softball with Cassavetes and the two men being held up at gunpoint. 

John protested that he didn't have any money, they'd just been playing softball. "The guy said, 'I know you have money, you're an actor. I've seen you on television.'

John said, 'Look, I've got 20 bucks. I'm going to get some ice-cream for Se and I. You want to have some ice-cream? Why are you robbing people? Why don't you get a job?'

The guy said he couldn't get a job. John said, 'I'll give you a job!' And he did, on Chinese Bookie. The guy's an actor now, and he became a friend. Turns out, we're having ice-cream, he didn't have any bullets in his gun, but we didn't know that at the time. John even gave him the change from the ice-cream. I couldn't believe it - tipping him for not robbing us!" [pp. 143-14]). 

.I have wondered if that was an apocryphal story - because if I were that guy, I'd have come forward by now!

No! It's a great story and I believe it, but I have no idea who it could have been.

I was reading on Wikipedia that David Bowie was on set and can be seen in the audience somewhere at Crazy Horse West! I've never known that, never knew that Bowie and Cassavetes interacted... any other stories there? Do you know where Bowie appears?

This one I don't believe. I've recorded DVD commentaries with Mike and Bo and Mr. Bowie never came up.

I've always been pissed off that Criterion removed the boobs from Love Streams, and more pissed off that they claimed - this despite the flesh on display in Bookie - that Cassavetes would have wanted it that way, that it had only been because of Golan and Globus that there was nudity in the film. That seems dubious to me. Is it true that Cassavetes had a distaste for nudity - do you know if he ever explained that? - and if so, how do we square that with him setting Bookie in a burlesque club? Seems like an odd choice for a man who didn't want to have nudity onscreen.

My understanding is that Cassavetes was quite prudish about on screen nudity and if you look at his work and the work put out by Cannon Films (Golan and Globus) I think it's entirely credible that the boobs popped up there for contractual reasons. I don't want to pretend to speak for him, but he was making movies independently at a time when cinema and especially art house cinema was breaking taboos and showing sexual acts, nudity, violence in ways that had been unthinkable. But you don't see any of that in Cassavetes' films - only emotional violence, raw human behaviour. And now let's look at the burlesque in Chinese Bookie... I mean, it is a long, long way from the strip clubs you find in most American movies. It's not a coincidence that the name evokes the Crazy Horse club in Paris (which John had visited, and which later became the subject of a Fred Wiseman documentary). These routines really do aspire to some kind of art, albeit a tawdry, tatty, LA version of the Parisian girl shows. And Cassavetes sees the girls as people, and performers, the nudity is really very casual in this film, not sexualized.

This connects also with the question of violence, and another great story - how when it came down to it Cassavetes really didn't want to shoot the bookie. I think he found these movie entertainment staples - sex and violence - fundamentally unpalatable or uninteresting. And again, if you look at Cassavetes' movies for gun porn, there's not much there - only, fleetingly, here, and, granted more in Gloria, which showed that he could do it if he wanted to, or rather, had to (and he didn't like that movie).

Ever have a chance to interact with Lars von Trier? I believe he either said that Bookie was his favourite Cassavetes film or else his favourite film outright at one point...? Apparently he drops a reference to it by having a character in The House that Jack Built call himself Mr. Sophistication, but I've never been able to watch that film past the baby duck scene.

I guess I would remember if I had met von Trier... I did think there were parallels between what Cassavetes did and the aims and methods of the Dogme manifesto and so I tried to get a message to him to invite him to write something for the book, but without success. (And although I have a lot of time for von Trier I did avoid The House That Jack Built. I feel like cinema and TV developed an unhealthy obsession with psychopaths in the wake of Silence of the Lambs and that I could opt out on that.

I'm looking forward to seeing the film back to back with Saint Jack on Thursday. It occured to me as I was tasked with writing a very short capsule to promote the two films together that Ben Gazzara is playing a variation on Bogart's Rick Blaine in both these movies, and I am curious to see where that idea might go...

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie screens Thursday at the Vancity Theatre, double-billed with Saint Jack. Both films have studio screenings thereafter. The screening on the 25th is the one you want to make it to, if you can; better seats than in the studio, plus an introduction to Killing of a Chinese Bookie by Tom Charity and another for Saint Jack by novelist Erik d'Souza.  

Friday, August 19, 2022

But First, Joe Keithley! Green Party Benefit August 20th

Heh. I announced that I was going to take a break from writing, last post, but I forgot that I'd already promised Joe I would write this! 

DOA's  Joe Keithley - the only person whose music I have moshed to that I have ever had the chance to vote for - is up for re-election to Burnaby City Council on October 15th. He's been in office since 2018. when he was almost the only Green elected to council; it would have been nice if Burnaby voters had voted a few more like-minded party members into office alongside him! His platform includes "fighting Climate Change, getting affordable rental housing and co-ops built, getting active transportation infrastructure built, affordable daycare space, [and] rapidly increasing our tree canopy" (quoting from Joe's press release). 

And I really like the idea of his Harmony For All program, as well, which collects unused or unwanted musical instruments and directs them to kids in need in Burnaby - kids with musical aptitude but no money for an instrument (it also helps pay for music lessons). That's the kind of creative, positive idea that Joe is perfectly situated to make happen, the kind of thing that even a more conservative council couldn't possibly say no to.  

Anyhow, Joe has a benefit show/ fundraiser for the Burnaby Green Party set up at Lochdale Hall (490 Sperling) this Saturday August 20th, 7-10pm. If I recall - last I was a guest in Joe's kitchen, for the purposes of interviewing him - he explained to me that the building you see behind the guys on the front of Something Better Change is Lochdale Hall, so it's a pretty fun place to meet (it's also "is one block from my old High School," Joe writes, "where I saw my first rock show when I was 14, so it will be a fun return to my old stompin' grounds.")

Joe writes of the night that "I'll be playing a bunch of my favorite songs and telling the stories behind them. My old friends Greg Hathaway and Brad Lambert from Roots Roundup will be playing at the event as well."

It's important that you support the cause, Joe continues, because "in this election, the Burnaby Green Party are up against two parties that receive a lot of their funding from developers and the extremely wealthy: basically those that don't give a damn about regular people, so here I am asking for your help. We could use a donation, it does not matter how much, everything will help." 

The funny thing is - I've voted for Joe, I've seen Joe campaign, I've interviewed Joe about his campaigning, but I've never been to one of his fundraising shows; I've only ever seen DOA. So I'm actually curious to check this out just on the basis of music alone. But maybe I'll make a donation, as well? 

Because it's no joke - living in an apartment in Burnaby still means living in fear of demoviction; my neighbourhood is studded with places that were three story walk ups (quite like the one I live in!) that have been knocked down and condo'd since we moved in here, including plenty of places that Erika almost took an apartment in, when she was first hunting for a place here (more than once we've driven past construction sites and she's said, "Good thing I didn't taken an apartment in the building that was there..."). Things have gotten less tense since Joe (and Mayor Mike Hurley, also up for re-election) were voted in, but if the Greens make a stronger showing this time - if they get more support, if they get more candidates on council - I'll feel safer; the threat of a swing back to a more development-oriented slate is a real threat.

The rest of the press release follows (slightly reformatted): 

If you make a donation to our campaign, you will see two options, one
for Council and one for school trustee, if you do donate, please choose
the council option. To make a donation, you have to be a Canadian
citizen and have resided in B.C. for the last 6 months

The tickets are $25, Here's the
PayPal credit card link:

At the door, we will make it cheaper for students and anybody who is

Here's the link to make a donation to my campaign and the Burnaby Greens

You can also send a cheque if you like, please make the cheque out to:
Burnaby Green Party

Mai to:

Carrie McLaren
Unit # 4
3850 Dominion St.
Burnaby, BC
V5G 1C2

On the bottom left of the cheque in the memo, please make a notation:
Council Donation

This email is authorized by Burnaby Green Party Financial Agent
Carrie McLaren 604 626 6086

Joe Keithley
Talk - Action = 0

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Gonna take a break

...I have burned myself out. Gonna try not to write here for a couple weeks, and if that works, I might go a bit longer. Have a good summer.

Steve Earle at the Vogue, Vancouver, August 15th 2022, with Bev Davies photographs

Preamble: Hey, Steve, if you end up reading this... the photos of Townes and Guy that I was tryin' to point out to you by way of one of your crew (and via the publicists I've been in touch with) are not on this post, but a couple of previous ones. The ones of Guy Clark are under that link; the ones of Townes van Zandt are under this one. They were taken at the Vancouver Folk Festival in the 1980s by a photographer named Bev Davies, who was there to see you the other night, too, and who took all the pics on this blogpost 'cept the last one. Maybe you looked down into the pit and noticed her? (Some nice photos of Bev here). She is best-known for her photos of first-gen Vancouver punk, so if you've ever owned an early DOA album (inquiring minds want to know!), you might have seen her pics before. She never did take photos of Jerry Jeff Walker (and she can't remember which version of "Mr. Bojangles" she has the strongest associations with - it may not be Jerry Jeff's!), but I set up her photo pass so that you would have your photo taken by someone who took photos of Guy and Townes, because I figured that maybe that would matter to you. Seemed a nice thank-you to you for putting out those kickass albums covering their songs; there was nothin' else that I could do that I figured you might care about (tho' if you like I can probably email you a cover of "Mr. Bojangles" recorded by one of Vancouver's best buskers, a guy named "Andre the Gypsy," Andre Girard, who I interviewed awhile back. I have his CD around somewhere, and I think his version "Mr. Bojangles" is on it. It's moving to hear. Andre died of cancer a few years ago and used to tell a story - no one knew if it was true, but it was certainly believable - of having jammed with Willie Nelson once; he was good enough that he might have. I'm not 100% sure where the CD is or if "Mr. Bojangles" is on it, but, like, I could go lookin' if you want. RIP, Andre).  

You're excused from reading the rest of this, by the by - it's just another concert review, maybe more digressive than average. Thanks for the show! Bev's best photo is here:

Steve Earle by bev davies, the Vogue Vancouver, August 15, 2022; not to be reused without permission

[Commence actual concert review]. 

So that was a pretty great night the other night! High points by me were the darker epics, especially "It's About Blood," "Transcendental Blues," and "Fixin' to Die" - three of the least "country" songs of the night, in fact. The buildup to "Transcendental Blues" in particular generated a noisy, droning, Crazy-Horse like wave of sound that engulfed the audience and prompted me to close my eyes, which is usually a good sign, since it means I'm really interested in listening to something in a focused way, without the distraction of seeing it being played. You can listen better with your eyes shut! 

Mind you, that was the only time I closed my eyes at any length during the night, but I still enjoyed myself, and emerged with determination to get a few more albums by Earle, starting with The Ghosts of West Virginia, about a horrifyingly recent mine disaster, as soon as I can find it. That "It's About Blood" song is great (you a fan of John Sayles, Steve?).  

As I indicated in my previous post on Steve Earle, I did not really know Earle's catalogue - or how far back in Texas music history he goes - very well at all before I began prepping for this show, so in many ways the prep was more exciting than the concert itself, which I mostly just used as a pretext to meditate on the peculiar quality of some of Earle's songs, which are more character sketches capturing a moment in a life and a mood than they are stories having a Syd-Field-approved narrative structure. "Copperhead Road" feels more like an autobiographical introduction to Mr. Pettimore than it does a book or movie, for example, while the narrator of "Ellis Unit One" (not on the set the other night) is telling you about his life and his job - many small stories and observations, like you might get if you were sitting next to the fellow at a bar, but no overarching narrative, no big event, no plot. "Fixin' to Die" is a bit more novelistic, in that we find out what happens before and after the crime that is depicted, but even there, Earle seems mostly interested in the singular moment, the guy sitting in his car with his gun thinking about what he's going to do, and the mood of overall grimness that has overwhelmed his life...

To be clear, that's all right with me - songs are NOT movies, are NOT novels, and they don't have to be. But Earle is better than most at creating characters in his songs, so it's kind of interesting that he's apparently less interested in other aspects of story - plot, conflict, climax, etc. (Maybe he'd disagree?). 

Steve Earle and the Dukes, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Similar things happen with one of the more political story-songs in his catalogue, "Ben McCulloch," which I didn't know until a couple of weeks ago. I had previously mentioned "Ellis Unit One" and "John Walker's Blues" as the most interesting of his lyrics; you can add this one. Written about an actual confederate general, the lyrics tell a Civil War story from the point of view of a Southern soldier, a poor grunt who signs up with his brother for the promise of pay, good rations, and a free rifle - what a deal! Again, there's not much of a plot: initially impressed by McCulloch's bearing, the soldier endures shitty conditions, including, besides being shot at, ample bad weather and illness; watches his brother die in battle; grows increasingly miserable and disillusioned, and eventually deserts (presumably keeping his free rifle, because fuck y'all y'all, you promised me it and I'm takin' it - tho' Steve leaves that detail to your imagination). You can't tell at the end if, when news reaches our protagonist that McCulloch has fallen to the Yankees, he is happy that it happened or sad that he wasn't around to see it. Are there consequences for his desertion? What happens next? Again, you'd have to invent quite a bit more "action" if you were to develop the story into a movie - but it's a powerful character sketch, to be sure, and there is one hell of a couplet, one of those rhymes that can bring tears to your eyes, if you're an emotional type: "I killed a boy the other night who'd never even shaved / I don't even know what I'm fighting for, I ain't never owned a slave." 

I mean, it can bring tears to MY eyes, a line like that. A lot going on under the surface, there. The best songwriting does that - taps into emotions that run so deep that you can't even name them, but you still feel them. So yeah, I'm glad to climb on board the Steve Earle train.

One wonders though, if there are Confederate flag-waving yahoos out there, "southern pride" yokels, who like this song? Would be interesting to know how Earle feels about the removal of Confederate statues, or what his own associations with that flag are [EDIT: asked and answered, so thanks, Heath: see comments]. "Copperhead Road" also kind of dovetails with that problematic aspect of the south, that "rebel spirit." I have no plans to talk to Steve Earle (unless someone wants to pay me an amount of money commensurate with the work involved, which has generally not been my experience of music journalism), but it'd be interesting to know what he makes of all these things, or, say, Harry Crews, Flannery O'Connor, snake handling, "Southern Man" vs. "Sweet Home Alabama," all of that. The South (I suspect) is, relative, to the North in America, what the whole fuckin' United States is to us up here, even further north, in Canada; you can't but peer down with voyeuristic fascination, and it gets a lot more fascinating the further south one gets. Is geography an actual factor, there - do things just get more decadent, fucked up, intense the closer you get to the equator? Do the Inuit look down at us in Vancouver and shudder in horror? No idea. 

Anyhow, those songs didn't draw the biggest whoops. The biggest whoops came for the biggest hits - "Guitar Town," "So You Wanna Be an Outlaw," and of course, "Copperhead Road," nicely placed smack in the middle of the set, which saw plenty of people up on the floor dancing. It's a fine song, which for me (and possibly for the guy who has to sing it every show?) suffers only from over-exposure, because the degree to which it is known (more than, say, any of the songs I mention above) is not really an index of how much "better" it is than anything else in Earle's catalogue. The popularity of that song has more to do with the conditions of the marketplace, the radio, and the circumstances of his fandom and career than it does with the inherent qualities of the song. One wonders if he gets tired of playing it, or is he like Eric Bloom and "Don't Fear the Reaper?" (I realize that's Buck's song, but I didn't talk to Buck; but Bloom, when I went there during an interview a couple of years ago, was sort of - what are you talking about, why would we be sick of playing that, it's a huge hit, people like it, and we want to play it for them, next question...). I once chatted with Rodney DeCroo - who ain't Steve Earle, as he himself has observed - about just this sort of phenomenon, the song in the artist's catalogue that everyone wants him to play ("War Torn Man" is his), that he's played too many times and no longer connects with and would dearly love to retire. Bison and "Wendigo Part II" is another example; I often tell my Lou Reed story in this context, too, of seeing him do an amazing set of mostly new songs in Tokyo, on the Ecstasy tour, followed by a bored, rushed, obligatory encore of his "hits," which he clearly did NOT want to have to play. 

Maybe all this changes when a song has helped buy you a house? (I don't think any of Rodney's songs have bought him a house). Speaking of which, my favourite of Earle's between-song anecdotes involved his buying an apartment in New York, which he never figured he'd do, choosing a location close to the water for the benefit of his water-obsessed autistic son. That was by way of an encore to "City of Immigrants," which I had to muse is "the Steve Earle song I'm saddest that Joe Strummer never got to hear." Joe would have dug it. 

But back to that rebel whoop for a second: there was a guy behind me who annoyed me with his loud, ceaseless mansplaining to his wife through one song, who I finally turned to and mimed the universal ear-pointing message for shut the fuck up and listen to the music, or at least let ME listen to the music. Mansplain on your own time, buddy! As my wife will tell you, I'm a pretty active mansplainer myself, but there's a time and a place for it, and - take heed, fellow mansplainers - that time and place is never during a concert. When people have paid good money (or done a shit-ton of writing) to be there... it's prolly not you they want to be hearing. 

Anyhow, one of those whoop-drawing songs got the dude - he was wearing a shirt decorated with sharks - to his feet to go dance, and he turned en route, pausing there on the stairs to the dance floor, made eye contact with me and gave a loud, defiant "woo!" which made me think of just those Southern-pride yokels, that "rebel spirit." It was a fuck-you-buddy disguised as a cheer. To that end, let me just observe for the benefit of this fella, even though he will never read it: I have no problem with people whooping or cheering or dancing. These are concert-appropriate behaviours, for the most part. What I don't want to hear is someone showing off his erudition (or whatever) to his wife at length while a song is playing. You can do that at home. You can start a fuckin' blog of your own, even (tho', news flash, your wife prolly won't read it; she was prolly as much of a trapped audience as I was). I realize that we have been conditioned, as men, all our lives to show off our knowledge and facility in speech, rewarded for our skills at doing such, graded on it, often paid commensurately with our skill at it, and that it kind of rankles to then be criticized for mansplaining. As I say, on that front, I'm no different. I can remember drawing my Mom aside from a bridge game to tell her something important, when I was about six, bringing her into the stairwell to explain that the brachiosaurus was the tallest dinosaur that ever lived. I can only criticize the act of mansplanation so far before I become a raging hypocrite. But as I say, there's a fuckin' time and a place for it and CONCERTS AREN'T IT. Mansplain before or after. Take fuckin' notes, if you have to (I do!). But unlike your wife, who made promises to put up with a certain amount of your bullshit - in sickness, health, and during the act of mansplanation (...shoulda written THAT into our vows), I have no obligations, here. If you are in a circumstance where other people paid a few hours' wages to listen to something, unless you're the person they're paying to listen to, just shut the fuck up! Not doing so doesn't make you a REBEL. It makes you discourteous, a nuisance. It is fair game for me to bust you in the act. Get over it, grow the fuck up, and Woo! to you too. 

End rant (PS., I liked your shirt). 

At the merch table with Eleanor Whitmore and Jeanette McConnell (I think) by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Anyhow, I enjoyed myself, overall. I actually thought Earle and his band did a poorer-than-average job of concealing the exhaustion of touring, the stress of getting across the border, and so forth - they looked a bit road-worn at times, up there - but they did a fine job regardless, even if the strings showed at times - for example, when a flustered Eleanor of the Whitmore Sisters, out in the lobby, inscribed a CD to "Anika" rather than "Erika," mishearing me through my mask, and then had to "fix" her own handwriting, her inner self-grumbling was practically audible as she did so: "the guy has a mask and some sort of speech impediment, how the fuck am I gonna hear him, damn I wish I'd been able to get to the washroom, where the fuck is Bonnie, I can make this A look like an E if I add a bump here, who the fuck is named Anika anyhow, okay, good enough, next!" (She SAID none of this, of course, was most patient and polite but still... note that Bonnie popped up soon thereafter, too, btw!). But I loved that Earle introduced the Whitmores and plugged their merch, appearing onstage before their opening set, at the very beginning of the show, to call out somethin' like, "Hey, you fuckin drunks out at the bar" to come in and hear them (I am actually not sure whether he said "fuckin'" or not but I enjoy remembering it thus). And big kudos to Eleanor Whitmore and Chris Masterson for playing in both bands - that's gotta be pretty exhausting...!

Earle had no merch of his own, mind you - "sold out," was what they said, which is possible. Also possible he just wanted the sisters to have a payday. They sure deserved it, if so! 

Another slightly weird note in the night: at one point, close to the encore, Steve said something about not holding it against Vancouverites that their last attempted show in our city was cancelled do to COVID measures, adding something to the effect of "y'all did a better job of taking care of yourselves up here than we did." Fascinatingly, a couple of guys standing off to the right (left, from Steve's perspective) started booing that. It was from the same basic quadrant as the shouted requests for "Billy Austin" - a song I do not yet know, but am going to listen to as soon as I hit publish - were coming from. When these two guys started booing,  you could see Steve very briefly glance over and think, "What the fuck?" It was another moment where you could kind of infer the thought processes at work: "They have that here in Canada, too, huh? I guess there's the whole trucker's convoy. Well, fuckit, I'm not gonna get into it... the show must go on...". 

But like I say, it was all less about seeing a live show, for me, anyhow, than catching up with Steve Earle's music. I'm glad I did - that I won't be kicking myself, when Steve retires or dies or implodes, the way I do with Guy Clark or John Prine or John Fahey (or the Crucifucks!), all of whom I had great chances to see and didn't. In fact, as far as "see them while you can" shows go, I enjoyed Earle more than I enjoyed my one Bob Dylan show, some 20 years ago in Saitama, Japan, which was so "professional" (aside from the surprising, delightful, and very weird inclusion of "If Dogs Run Free" in his set) as to be almost without character. Earle was a lot warmer and wittier than Dylan between songs, didn't play "edited" versions of his tunes (like a four minute "Desolation Row": what's the point of that, Bob? Do you really think there are fans who want to hear that song who don't want to hear ALL of it?). I doubt it was the best show Steve Earle ever gave, but I sure didn't hear anyone complaining, afterwards, either! 

But the most impressive moment of the evening, in fact, had nothing to do with the performance. It involved something that most other venues in town have made a source of annoyance, involving the guy who asked me to check my bag. I don't know if he was an employee of the Vogue or of MRG or the security firm that was working the event - "young Asian fella" is about all I've got, here, sorry - but he handled the task - so often one that puts me in a bad mood from the outset of a show - so skillfully that it was really quite a delightful surprise. Y'see, as a writer - one who often goes to concerts alone - I will often show up with various items in tote: a book I'm reading, a notebook I'm taking notes in, a CD for someone I plan to see, maybe even a record I hope to get signed  - and I've gotten very frustrated at, say, the Commodore or the Venue, those times I've gone out of my way to bring the tiniest bag possible, smaller than any purse, and STILL been told I had to check it - because it's seemed very clear that the policy, however it is written, is being enforced on a gendered basis. I've occasionally even stood there arguing: "What the fuck, dude, you didn't pull a mandatory coat-check on her, and her purse is bigger than my bag; so is" - I point - "hers, hers, hers, and hers, or, look at the size of hers! My bag is smaller than all of those, and it has things I need - look, it's got my pen, my notebook, and a book I'm reading, DO NOT make me coat check it." But they never ever ever fuckin' relent, and then I have to pay $5 (tip included) to check a bag that I really do NOT want to check, and be without my book or notebook or whatever for the rest of the evening. Grr! (I even wrote my annoyance about that into my Lucinda Williams show review a few years back, and had it edited out by Mike, but I can mention it now, right?).   

Anyhow, the guy at the door of the Vogue was much cooler than that: he asked me if I could fold my pack down to about half its size, and I said I could not, because I had records in it I was hoping to get signed. "Sorry, then you're going to have to coat check it." In point of fact, I was fully expecting to coat check it, anyhow - it wasn't a hardship - but that he said that the coat check was required only for bags of a certain size made me glow with admiration for him. He WOULD have let me in with my bag if it had been smaller (ie, the size of all those small bags that I've had to pay to check at the Commodore or the Venue). That's the way to do it, you Commodore/ Venue people: enforce a coat check by the size of the pack, not by the gender of the person holding it! 

Maybe it's not that unusual a policy, but sometimes it's just nice to see people being good at their jobs.

Not much else. Erika and I mused about the Vogue a bit, as well; she even looked up the kind of wallpaper (Damask pattern, apparently; Bev's of the opinion that it's actually cloth, but none of us touched it, so...). I mean, considering its age, cool decor, and the relatively comfortable seats - better than the QE or the Orpheum or the other bum-pinchers in town - it's a pretty under-sung space; makes me want to flip open an Aaron Chapman book and educate myself about it. It has a kind of swanky, old-fashioned theatre vibe to it, that makes me wonder if I ever saw a film there back in the 1980's, or perhaps a play? What's most interesting about the space is how mutable it seems. It felt completely different seeing Steve Earle there than it had seeing Lucinda Williams or Sparks or Nick Cave or Motorhead or Ray Davies. Considering that it is full of character, there is a weirdly chameleonlike quality to the room that kind of moulds to the character of the performer playing there, that some people bring out more than others (Nick Cave made best use of it, that I've seen - nothing has filled that room more effectively than his 2013 performance "Stagger Lee" - but I'd still rather see shows there than the QE or Orpheum.) 

(The Commodore and Venue, coatcheck be damned, are better, tho', as would the Imperial be if they only had more seats).   

Steve Earle and the Dukes plus sound guy's display, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

The only other note I have to include: there was a contest that I won, but I had already acquired a media pass, so I ended up transferring the two tickets to Erik Iversen and his buddy Bo, who came up to me in the lobby after the gig and thanked me, telling me that he'd last seen Steve on the Copperhead Road tour back in 1990 and had had no plans to see him that night until Erik called and said I'd given him the contest tickets. He was really thankful and loved the night (Erik, too!). That too was almost as satisfying as the concert itself. Photo of me and Bo, below, because why the hell not...? 

End transmission. 

 Cellphone selfie by Allan MacInnis: me an' Bo. Hell, use it if you want!