Saturday, September 30, 2023

Art Bergmann, live at the Rickshaw, 2023: throwing gold

Photos by Allan MacInnis. There are much better ones to be seen - talk to Sharon or Gord or...

Note: since I first published this, I've tweaked it a bit. I may tweak it more yet. I hope it doesn't piss anyone off. (I've just finished my final tweaks).

There's been a slight element of chaos all four times that I've seen Art Bergmann, starting with the Poisoned reunion gig back in, what, 2009? (I never got to catch him in the 1980s or 1990s, and I gather even then, with his band at maximum tightness, there was a wild card element to Art's shows, often having to do with Art himself). 

The harrowing moments at that Richards on Richards show -- where it seemed like Art might collapse into the audience, or strangle Tony Walker out of frustration at having been left guitarless, or when the somewhat under-rehearsed band got a verse wrong on "Our Little Secret" and Art kinda screamed at them -- were more unsettling than last night's. But it's come to be an expected aspect of seeing Art live. 

You know his back isn't so good, for example, and yet twice when I've seen him, heedless of the risk of injury, he's reached into the front row to physically pull someone up from the pit onto the stage. At such times, as the words BAD IDEA flash in imaginary neon overhead, you imagine his spine going TWANG! and scattering around the room in bloody chunks. It doesn't happen, but afterwards, you're, like, "Phew, that could have gone badly." 

I was glad to see him taking a bit more care last night. Pushing past your limits, challenging yourself, digging deep into authentic emotion are all things Art excels at, but you don't want him to injure himself! 

Probably the tightest, most satisfying  performance of his that I've caught was the previous one at the Rickshaw, for The Apostate, back in 2017, and even that show had an element of mere anarchy, especially near the end, when Art basically relocated a big chunk of the audience to the stage by just such a means and conducted an impromptu jam session, where the chaos was actually worked in and orchestrated, became part of the performance, instead of a threat to it. What's the line from the film Performance? "The only performance that makes it, that really makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness"...?

While never going all the way to madness, such elements can make Art's shows challenging to review, to do justice to the genius and power of the man as a performer and songwriter (very much still in evidence, don't get me wrong) and be fittingly respectful of his position in Canadian music history, and yet note the times when the center seemed in danger of, shall we say, "not holding." 

Like, did Art flat-out forget a verse of "Entropy?" Fitting, maybe, for a song about things falling apart -- which is also, incidentally, my favourite song off his last two albums -- but when the third verse came around, he seemed to draw a blank on the lyrics ("we're lucky to die/ in our sleep"), sat silent for a second, then tilted back in his chair so we could no longer see his face. With Art semi-horizontal and no longer singing, the band locked into a slightly unsure-seeming vamp. I thought of the moment in Hard Core Logo when Billy "disappears" at the bar at the Niagara, while still sitting right there, and Joe is like, "Where's Billy? What happened to Billy?" 

I mean, it's a hell of a song, and it was sounding great, up to that point, but suddenly there's this moment of uncertainty, which is about when Art sat up to urge Stephen Drake (the other guitarist, I think  -- Paul Rigby was not present) to amp up the soloing a bit. I couldn't actually hear what Art said to him, but that's what it looked like, anyhow; Drake, while making a fine lead guitarist overall, was somewhat too tentative at such moments, though you can hardly blame him if he was a bit intimidated taking over from someone of Art's stature. Then Art returned to the song at a slightly later point -- "boats in the water, mouths full of sea." 

It was, in fact, a blip of less than half a minute, but such things feel much longer when you don't know what is happening or how long it will last. I felt nervous for Art (and his band) at such moments, though clearly not everyone did -- like the doofus who hollered "wake up" when Art tilted back; he was clearly on a different page. 

But last night was pretty goddamn great, regardless of such blips. All of Art's comeback since 2009 has been extremely unlikely, a gift from beyond the limits of what's reasonable to expect of an artist. He's pushed past some extraordinary circumstances and recorded some of his strongest material (I'm really not sure I want to relinquish Sexual Roulette as a high watermark, replace it with the recent albums, as people who say these are the best albums of his career do... but they're at least up there). ShadowWalk is an album I'm still working with, still haven't fully come to terms with, but I'm enjoying the experience. Sometimes albums -- like Bowie's BlackStar, for example -- come to you so heavily loaded that they're intimidating even to sit through, but a single listen to ShadowWalk mostly makes you want to flip it over and start at side A again. It works very well. 

I did shoot a bit of video, and thought that this was the best of the clips I got, a very crunchy "Christo-Fascists," the second song of the set, after a "Killing Sunday" opener that I wish I'd caught instead; the first few songs of the set were the strongest, I thought, though if my battery hadn't died, some of the later rave-ups were quite effective, too. 

After those first two songs, "Dirge No. 1" was one of two high points of the night, for me, then "Bound for Vegas," though that song seems almost like science fiction now, it's so far from Art's actual career trajectory post-1990, when it first came out. 

Of course there were a few other songs off ShadowWalk; "Raw Naked Monday," for sure, but I don't know that album so well yet; I think one of the others was, "Death of a Siren;" and the evening ended on a one-song encore of  "A Hymn for Us." He also did a song I don't know as well off Late Stage Empire Dementia (the title track?) and a song (did he describe it as "silly" or "goofy"?) that I didn't recognize at all, which might have been a totally new one -- it wasn't off any of the last few records, anyhow. It was fairly raucous and loose and upbeat but I don't know what it was. 

There was no Young Canadians (or K-Tels) material to be heard, despite some predictable, inappropriate shouts to hear the same. I love the Young Canadians and the K-Tels, but jeezus, folks, "Hawaii"...? Those songs just wouldn't have suited the eight-piece, jammy nature of last night's band at all, who at one point did a funky number called, if memory serves, "Soul Power," which I thought Art said was a Mitch Ryder tune (if you haven't read Guilty of Everything, the story about John and Art seeing Mitch Ryder live -- then getting jumped and attacked by head-up-their-ass gay-bashers in the west end -- is one of the most striking chapters). I can't find the original now, to post a link to ti (there's a "Soul Power" by James Brown, but I don't think that's it), but it was very fun, very unexpected, and the funky, soulful backup vocals from Aidan Farrell and Leo D. E. Johnson were perfectly suited. (Art's rhythm section, of Murphy Farrell, father to Aidan; Adam Drake, brother -- I think -- to Stephen; and Brad Ferguson on bass deserve the most praise, for keeping things anchored at the bottom end of things; I didn't get enough of a sense of what Dave Genn was doing on keys to speak to it, but I've seen other people single him out for praise, too).  

Bands that flourish on funky, soulful jams are not necessarily going to fare as well on tight two minute punk tunes. It's just a different thing. I mean, what does "Hawaii" look like when you arrange it for an eight piece band with two female backup vocalists, a drummer, a percussionist, a second guitarist, and keyboards? (I mean, maybe if they did a reggae version, threw a bit of Jimmy Buffett into the mix? Would you even want that? How daft to be requesting that song!). 

I think the band is now even calling themselves, maybe as a joke, "No Hawaii."

There were also people who apparently thought they were praising the band by shouting that they were "pretty good," as in, "That's a pretty good band you've got, Art!" if "pretty good" were a term of praise; you gotta love it when fans become unintentional hecklers through sheer carelessness of language. 

Weird audience, I guess is the takeaway, there, but many people were absolutely reverent. (I fear that I have not been so, sufficiently, myself, but I might also buy a ticket to see him at Blue Frog in November). It was a hell of a night, one of those concerts that stays with you. If you  missed it, the Blue Frog beckons. 

Regardless of the absence of Art's earliest material, there were indeed some deep dives, going as far back as that first Poisoned EP from 1985. We got a "trilogy of terror" (or did Art say "house of horrors"? Something like that!) consisting of "Guns and Heroin," which I think was the earliest tune he did, and another high point; "Dirge. No. 1" and... uh, what was the song in-between them? Was that where he did "Beatles in Hollywood"...? There was quite a bit of dancing and exuberance from the audience, who clearly appreciated this material (there was a full lower level, but a closed balcony, maybe a bit fuller than the 2017 show. It could have been, in the best of all possible worlds SHOULD have been, bigger still, but I doubt Art has any complaints about the draw). 

Art quipped that the current tour would be the last time he did these darker, older songs, and would be stepping away from his more politically-edged material, to boot, saying he was opting for a life of love and peace. I'm dubious, there. He deserves plenty of respite, and I wish him luck and all the love and peace he can get, but from what I've seen of his nature, Art seems more in keeping, by character, with the old Nietzsche quote that, "In conditions of peace, a warlike man attacks himself."

As the end of the evening approached, we also got to hear a country-tinged "If She Could Sing" and, as a show closer for the main set, "Bound for Vegas," which I mention above and had named a couple of times in my mini-interview, but didn't actually expect to hear. It was a spectacular rave-up, a sonic orgy; Young Canadians songs would have been inappropriate for this band, but "Bound for Vegas" was ideal. My battery was dead, no evidence got recorded, but maybe someone else will post it? (Actually, Dirk Bently put a little bit of it up on Facebook...). 

I don't think we got anything at all off The Apostate or Songs for the Underclass (which appears to have manifested on vinyl! All his recent records were very reasonably priced and available in vinyl at the merch table). There may be one or two other songs that I'm forgetting. 

Through it all, the glasses made Art look a bit like Lou Reed, and like some versions of Lou, he was wearing makeup, even a bit of jewelry. I like my wife's speculation that some of this might have been Sherri's makeup or jewelry, but I don't know what the story is there. In fact, at the start of the night, Art had on a shiny, bejeweled hairclip -- you can see it in the "Christo-Fascists" vid -- that he eventually just threw into the audience as a souvenir for someone to take away. People scrummed to pick it up and someone came up smiling. It didn't look like a cheap trinket, and I think I even caught the word "gold."

You don't see performers throw gold into the audience very often.  

Of course, there was also a book launch, before the concert, for The Longest Suicide. I arrived as it was winding down, as people were asking where Art keeps his Order of Canada (The answer involved the words, "In a box"). Almost everyone who asked questions during the Q&A (featuring the new, skinny version of Aaron Chapman as moderator) or who made it to the front of the autograph queue afterwards thanked Art for doing what he does. For my own part, I didn't get to interact with him at all last night -- but I hope to have the chance to interview him again. 

Meantime, thank you, Art! (It was way better than "pretty good"). Toronto, take heed!

Friday, September 29, 2023

meandering morning thoughts on Los Popularos

Back when I lived out in Pimple Ridge (see previous post), I used to watch Soundproof all the time, as a window into a scene I was very curious about, but too far away and too young to actively partake of. I recall seeing Buzz, Dave, and maybe Tom Harrison reviewing the Los Pops EP, Born Free, a couple years after it had come out, circa 1984. I think the band was long done by then. One of them held it up and said, "Art Bergmann was kinda wasted in that band," and they all had a little sniggering chuckle about Art being "wasted," ha-ha. 

They didn't spend a lot of time on the EP, otherwise. 

Still, it's interesting to read Stuart Derdeyn's article on Art and Los Pops. I did ask Art a couple of Los Popularos questions as well, as part of an attempted email interview: Do you have a Zippy story? What's your favourite Los Pops song? What parts of which songs are yours? Why do you take a vocal for a bit of "Don't Say It?" 

Art just ignored the lot of them without comment. I'm guessing Stuart was talking to Art by phone, or some other medium where ignoring questions is harder.  Anyhow, I confess to getting a chuckle out of reading Art's reaction to Stuart's question about Los Pops: 

“A band I don’t care about that didn’t succeed,” he said. “The only thing that matters from the experience was the long-term friendships that came out of it. My past three albums are some of the best work of my career, let’s talk about those instead.”

Zing! I mean, yep, Art is prickly. I can sympathize, Stuart. I got a couple rebuffs myself, too, mostly about how under-prepped I was (mea culpa -- it was pretty last minute and I'd heard ShadowWalk one time through, maybe?). 

And yeah, as Stuart says, John Armstrong (who by coincidence I also have spoken to recently) is a much easier guy to talk to. Art reacts and shares it -- almost on the level of, whattaya askin' me this stupid fuckin' question for? -- while John obliges and/or occasionally gently redirects you. John has, for whatever reasons, cultivated "being a great interview" as a skillset (maybe from having worked for the Sun?). Art is more inclined to get feisty if you're being dumb or not doing what he wants. He has higher expectations of people, maybe? Or perhaps he just wants you to join his cult (he doesn't want interviewers, he wants followers!). 

To express it in terms of books, I have no idea if John has read How to Win Friends and Influence People, but I would be willing to bet Art hasn't. On the other hand, if I hadda guess which one might have read The Art of War... 

Regardless, Art's got a point. 

I discovered when the Porterhouse digital reissue of Born Free (and assorted demos and live cuts) happened that I had sold my copy of the album during a recent purge (one of those "What can I live without?" moments, where I have to second-guess my future listening). It says something that when I did that, I kept my EP by the Scissors (but I'd get more for Los Pops, right? I'd only get a couple bucks for the Scissors, great a pop tune as "Wrecked My Car" may be. I'd get five times that for Born Free! Then pay twice that or more to replace the fucking thing, which I also did last week. Third copy of it I've owned to date).  

I've just never loved Born Free. Of the four songs on it, there are two decent but hardly essential pop items ("Can't Come Back" and "Don't Say It," which, like I say, has Bill step aside so Art can sing a verse); there's a song that has never grabbed my attention or stuck in my memory ("Out on the Frontier" -- I always somehow tune it out, might be great but you'd figure it would have stuck by now, if it were); and one-and-only-one (minor?) local masterpiece, which is "Get Out of Your House," which is really interestingly-constructed, has provocative lyrics, and which I've asked Bill and John about already (working on Tony, looks like Gord isn't into it). If that song weren't on it, I probably wouldn't have re-purchased it. 

I've never owned their 7", either. 

Which is not to say that none of this is worth talking about. The Porterhouse reissues sound great, compared to, say, downloading some fan's rip sourced from the original vinyl EP (it's out there). The demos, live cuts, single and so forth are all right too -- I'm still kind of working with them. They're not a revelation, not going to change anyone's estimate of the band, but they're certainly not nothin' and I'm glad the tapes were found and I don't begrudge anyone who digs them. It's a curious project, worth checking out, I'm not dismissing it. 

But they really were a band where the parts are way more interesting than the sum. Active Dog, the Modernettes, the Young Canadians and the Pointed Sticks are all historically momentous local bands, unequal to each other, but all worthy of their canonization in terms of Vancouver punk. Los Popularos, though combining members of all those bands, is a kinda-interesting side project at best, a curio that doesn't really equal up.    

It's actually pretty interesting how DIFFERENT they sound from any of the bands they cannibalize -- they are a thing-unto-themselves, have a completely separate identity. And they do cohere around that identity. For people coming from four bands that have such strong and singular personalities, they do create a "whole 'nuther thing." But what supergroup has ever actually been better than the groups that it is made up of? 

Remember Minuteflag, which combined members of the Minutemen and Black Flag? Was someone from Saccharine Trust in there, too? Or am I thinking of the October Faction? Wow, I'd almost forgotten about them. If someone came at me telling me that October Faction was way better than the Minutemen, Saccharine Trust, and/or Black Flag... well, I would politely indulge them (sure wouldn't try to argue the point, almost like I try not to argue with flat earthers), but I'd also think, "Ah, this is someone who is using their musical opinions as a way of jockeying for status, who is so desperate to be noticed and remembered he's deliberately seeking obscure things to champion, to provoke reactions and stake out territory that no one will contest." 

I mean, that's fine, buddy: you can have that territory. "Oh, really? October Faction, huh? You don't say." (I know someone like this, when it comes to Los Pops; he is hereby invited to go tell it to Mike Usinger, who at least is getting paid, or, alternately, to fuck off and start his own blog, if he thinks his opinions are so righteous. Just go away, man -- I don't care what you think).

As for Art's involvement with the band... other than the line he sings in "Don't Say It," what does he even do, exactly? I am not so skilled (or invested) that I can pick out which guitar parts are his, vs. John's, for example. And as for the lyrics, I'm under the impression (from John) that songwriting was highly collective (tho' he did say "Get Out of Your House" was mostly down to Bill, lyrically). So I can't even say which WORDS are Art's, y'know? 

It is cool that the Los Popularos reissue is out there. If you don't know "Get Out of Your House," and care about local music, correct that. There WILL be a further Los Pops article from me, because they're worth noticing (it will take some time). And they have the advantage of being from 1982, so the release can capitalize on people's nostalgia, appeal to the memories of people who, as kids, saw them at the Town Pump and were blown away, or such. Far be it from me to interfere with anyone reliving their days of youthful fandom, when they were innocent and beautiful and life was full of potential and drama and new discoveries. It's a great time to discover a band, when you're young, I get it. 

But Art speaks the truth. The Apostate, Late Stage Empire Dementia, and ShadowWalk are far more interesting albums, far more mature, far more significant, more rewarding, far more deserving of our attentions. End rant. 

Thursday, September 28, 2023

The Pointed Sticks and the Avengers at the Rickshaw (no Night Court)

At one point during last night's show, Penelope Houston of the Avengers asked the audience what the drabbest, dullest suburb of Vancouver was. Standing up front -- since no one else was biting -- I shouted, "Maple Ridge," but she misheard me, asking confusedly from the stage, "Pimple Ridge?" Yeah, kinda! (I mean, it was where I spent my teen years). We eventually set her straight, and she dedicated "Desperation" to those of us from that town (turns out there were a few of us in the audience). 

I have never before enjoyed being misunderstood quite this much: Pimple Ridge, indeed. 

Throughout a generous set, and for sometime after at the merch area, Houston was personable, unpretentious and chatty, and had comments about almost every song, explaining that "Uh-Oh" went out to people who still don't know that no means no and, late in the night, dedicating "I Believe In Me" to Joe Keithley, who wasn't there, I don't think, but who was an inspirational figure to her, she explained. She also remarked on fallen friends (namechecking, in particular, Brad Kent, Zippy Pinhead, and Randy Rampage) and was generally sociable with people who knew her, wanted autographs, or wanted to tell their own stories about gigs (Bev showed a photo she took of the band in 1979). 

Socializing was part of the point of things, I think, moreso than with some other gigs. A lot of people present in the room were first-gen Vancouver punks, many of them in bands themselves, and there was a bit of a punk-rock-high-school reunion going on, as people encountered people they may not have seen for some time. The audience was thick with musicians, photographers, and event organizers I've met and in some cases interviewed, including Jade Blade, Tony Balony, Grant McDonagh, Jack Keating, Phil Smith, and many others who date back to the early days of Vancouver punk. Emilor of Night Court was there, too, even though her band had had to cancel. There were a few other familiar younger faces as well (hi, Ford; yes, you count as a younger face in last night's room). For my part, I busied myself with a fannish project: "How many people can I get to sign my copy of the Complication?" I even got Tony Balony to indulge me; though he wasn't on the album proper, he was a pretty important part of the reissue gig (which I was also at). Given his lack of direct involvement, he signed black ink in the black area. Sure! Too bad it was just a reissue -- it's a fun cover to get covered with signatures. Kinda felt like a high school year book, actually, albeit for a grade I was not actually in (top to bottom - Ian Tiles, Bill Hemy, Phil Smith, Tony Bardach, Gord Nicholl, Nick Jones). 

The cover is much cooler this way, methinks. Weirdly, Lynn W., Bev Davies, and Jade Blade all signed on the back of the record! (Lynn and Bev I get, since that's where you can see their photos, but why Jade?). Still to come: David M., Chris Arnett, Gerry Hannah... who else? (Was Colin Griffiths there last night? I missed my shot, if so; I wouldn't have recognized him, if he had been!). 

I had been unsure what the Avengers would be like, having never seen them, and, y'know, having been around for nearly 50 years can take its toll on a band, but everyone had fun and was fun to watch; I don't have a strong connection to their catalogue, so it was down to the songs I knew ("Cheap Tragedies," the one I know best and like most, opened the night). I would have bought one of the reissues of their Steve Jones-produced 7" with "Uh-Oh," "Cheap Tragedies," and "The American in Me," but it was sold out before I realized it was present (they also had reissue copies of the pink album, which I guess they managed to wrestle away from CD Presents, but I didn't get to talk to them about that. I don't have that much else to say, though I liked that the bassist was wearing a Channel 3 t-shirt and that (weirdly) he seemed to be playing his bass upside-down (Tony Balony spotted that). 

The Pointed Sticks were in fine form, too, and did plenty of new material to compliment the old (Nick Jones has said they're like sharks, they'd die if they stopped moving). I scribbled notes for a setlist: "I'm On Fire," "Pessimist's Son"... but I ran out of steam on that, choosing to get some video instead (when I upload them, I will post a link to "There's the Door" and "Anywhere," off their new LP; they also did "Pessimist's Son" off that album, as well as tunes from Three Lefts Make a Right ("Anytime" and "I'm On Fire") and their self-titled 2015 LP ("You're Not the One"). The band deserves tons of credit for not resting on their back catalogue, but the crowd, of course, got a bit more excited for songs they knew from back when ("Real Thing," "Part of the Noise," "Lies," "Somebody's Mom," "True Love," and their one-song encore -- "what you shout will have no bearing on what we play," Jones quipped, or words to that effect -- which proved to be "Out of Luck"). I was more enthusiastic than even Gerald (also present) in collecting signatures, this time, but I imagine he got the pink album signed; I'm saving up my merch money for the Art Bergmann gig on Friday, though.  

Besides that, I have no massive critical insights. I chatted with Sticks' keyboardist Gord Nicholl about his song about filmmaker "Billy Wilder," but I told him I wouldn't quote him about what his favourite Billy Wilder movie was (John Armstrong had picked Sunset Boulevard, a still from which graces the front cover of View from the Bottom; that one is a bit closer to my heart that Gord's pick, though I'm kind of a Double Indemnity man, myself, or maybe The Apartment, depending on the mood I'm in at the moment). 

Gord isn't much for interviews, it seems (I asked if he had any Los Popularos stories but he said he doesn't; he was friendly enough to chat with, though, and signed my copy of Born Free). I feel a bit better about the fact that I've never spoken to him at length, but he was perfectly happy to chat a bit int the lobby and scrawl his name on a few things. Did they sell all their remaining vinyl of Beautiful Future? Hope so! 

By the way, Gord, Wilder-wise, the guy whose name we couldn't remember was Joe E. Brown. Nobody's perfect! 

It was a pretty good gig, and maybe for the best that Night Court didn't play, since it was after midnight when I got home, and I do have to work this morning... the Avengers play Tacoma tonight... should be a great show. Glad I caught them, also stoked for Art, but... that's all I have the jam to write at the moment. Art Bergmann tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Art Bergmann, Raw and Naked - a mini-interview re: Friday's Booklaunch, (His Final?) Rock Show, and some Young Canadians notes

Art Bergmann at the Rickshaw, May 19, 2017, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

So one hears different things about Art Bergmann. I've had people I trust tell me that it's hard for him to stand with an electric guitar now, because he has issues with his back; I recall hearing similar things (though not from Art) at the Rickshaw, the last time I saw him there. It was a great show, that long-away night a mere six years ago -- you never would have guessed Art had physical issues, especially as he was reaching down to haul people onto the stage to join in the festivities; it was a committed, passionate performance -- but it also didn't seem to be an idle rumour: I remember people telling me that it would be his last ever rock show, and that any further shows he did would be acoustic. 

Again: never heard Art say that himself. But it seemed a good place to start my questions, especially given that people he polled on Facebook -- "what do you want to hear"-type questions of his fanbase -- were requesting driving, electric rock songs like "Gambol" and "Bound for Vegas," or maybe some of his Young Canadians material for his Rickshaw return on Friday. Hard to imagine those as acoustic songs! 

Art Bergmann at the Rickshaw, May 2017, by Erik Iversen, not to be reused without permission. 

They also didn't seem very  much in keeping with Art's very personal new album, ShadowWalk, themed around his surviving last year's loss of his long-time partner, Sherri Decembrini - whom Alex Varty describes as "the musician’s wife, muse, and de facto manager." The first song completed, "Death of a Siren," is rooted in acoustic strumming. Some other tracks have swirling soundscapes, rather than riffs; they're more spoken-word-set-to-ambient-music than songs per se. Art explains, when I ask if that's down to the influence of Paul Rigby -- who did some amazingly delicate work on The Apostate -- "As you can see from the album credits Paul Rigby was involved but the ambient feel you reference is my work with Russell Broom who sat with the lyrics, before bringing the tonal soundscapes you hear. Russell is a magician."

A prime example of Broom at work would be "Impotence." Introspective and brooding, it's some of the most pained and haunting material in Bergmann's catalogue, fairly far away from, say, the meaty riffing on his previous album's lead single, "Christo-Fascists," recorded with with the MC5's Wayne Kramer. With lyrics written by poet Patricia Kay, "Impotence" -- "a snapshot of my mindset before finally deciding life was liveable," Art says -- is in keeping with the isolation, staggering loss, and deep pain he suffered after Decembrini died, which he was very public about on social media; those of us who follow him on Facebook were afraid for him. In fact, when the title of Jason Schneider's authorized autobiography of Bergmann, The Longest Suicide, was announced, it seemed at the time like it could be referencing the expected outcome of Art's plunge into the abyss (Varty comments aptly that it seemed "in the worst possible taste," but otherwise is quite praising of the book. Note that the author will be on hand to launch the book as a sort of opener to the concert) . 

So the first question to Art: was this going to be an acoustic show? Would he be playing his "more rockin' songs" at all, or would this be something completely different...?

Before he even replied, Art addressed Facebook in general, in case my misapprehension was shared, writing in caps that "THIS IS GOING TO BE A ROCK AND ROLL SHOW!!" To me he added, "The band I have assembled for The Rickshaw gig is ready to blow the doors off," and directed me to recent Calgary Folk Festival footage where he is very much electrified. So we might, indeed, be hearing songs like "Bound for Vegas," or other favourites, as part of what Bergmann says will be "a 75+ minute set, with a bit of everything, ShadowWalk included."

Good to know! 

For those curious, Friday's band includes Adam Drake and Murphy Farrell, on drums and percussion; Bradley Ferguson on bass; Paul Rigby and Steven Drake on guitar; Leo DeJohnson and Aidan Farrell (and Art!) on vocals; and Dave Genn on keyboards. I know someone for whom the strength of the backing band was the key to deciding between Art at the Rickshaw and Pansy Division at the Biltmore, the same night; sorry, Pansy Division -- I had considered seeing you too, but having listened to ShadowWalk in full (now available for streaming on the weewerk bandcamp), I can't miss this.

Art Bergmann by Bob Hanham, Commodore 2014, not to be reused without permission

And by the by, it turns out I'm kinda wrong about ShadowWalk. It's a departure for Art, but not totally unrecognizable. I had taken "Death of a Siren" and "Impotence" as typical tunes, but there's also the jagged-edged rock of "Killing Sunday" -- lyric video here. It's the song that stands in the closest sonic relationship to the more harrowing moments of 1990's Sexual Roulette, seeing Art taking issue with the sanctified nature of the holy day itself -- "and the cult that made it" -- given that his wife died on a Sunday. "This song is raw grieffy lashing out and I am sorry, yea, it hurts," he wrote on Facebook, saying elsewhere that he no longer recognizes Sunday as a day of the week. Note that bandcamp gets the words a bit wrong, but in an interestingly telling way. I'm copying the lyrics below, in case they get fixed; I'm not sure if Art or Patricia deserve credit on this one but I love the substitution of "Christian," given here, with "chickens," in the actual song, because "chicken" is a slang for coward, and also the cutting of chickens heads is part of some pagan rituals -- a more evocative (but slightly less violent) way of getting at the same core idea.

When she died, the family brayed
Not one true word was said
So we made a collective incision
Slashed some Christian throats instead
And “Sundays are no more”
Became Our Monday morning cheer
The cult was dead, food was shared,
And women were not scared

"Art Bergmann Bites Vancouver," by Bev Davies, 2009, not to be reused without permission

So "Killing Sunday" is a standout - a powerful tune, one of Art's most biting, but there's an even more striking track, "Raw Naked Monday." Hearing it for the first time, I was surprised to discover it was such a pop song, I observed to Art via email. 

Art -- always a bit spikey -- came back with, "Why are you surprised that a career songwriter has written a pop song? Have you heard my back catalogue? RNM is no anomaly. Can you hear The Kinks influence?"

Actually, I can, but on reflection, it seems more akin to a song by Australian band the Angels (best known here as Angel City), "Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again," which also connects to someone's sense of loss for their departed partner (lyricist and vocalist Doc Neeson, whose voice sometimes reminds me of Bergmann's, explained a bit about the history of the song here). You just don't hear many catchy pop songs - "a good time summer song," Art calls it -- about loss and death. I didn't think it was a dumb question! "Of course I know your back catalogue," I wrote back, "but I was still surprised at how cheerful 'Raw Naked Monday' is. I expected the album to be mostly sombre and brooding!"

Art's response: "The album is a journey. 'Raw Naked Monday' is part of it, the new holy day after Sunday is killed...Revivification, then back to the future revolution of Kali, then acceptance and Love of the Hymn and 'CandleLight'...its epic, man...written over 8 need to live with it a while...ever read Nick Cave’s description of grief? Do it... we all will live it; that is the deal...It never leaves, but there is a way out and I am describing it."

Thanks to Art Bergmann for indulging my sometimes naff questions. Read his recent interview with Stuart Derdeyn here. For more information on tickets for Friday's show, see the Rickshaw page; see for notes on his last three LPs, plus a reissue and an EP to boot; and find Porterhouse's digital versions of the Young Canadians' studio recordings here (and Los Popularos here); and note that Red Cat records had copies of the Hawaii vinyl reissue in stock as late as Tuesday... More to come, but not for awhile... Seeya Friday?

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Tangerine Dream at the Rickshaw

Well, that was cool and unexpected... I went more out of curiosity than fandom (though I love a few Tangerine Dream soundtracks, none moreso than Sorcerer). It's not the sort of band you'd necessarily expect to see at the Rickshaw, not the sort of room they likely play often, but it worked quite well. At one point in the introduction, someone who I am guessing was Thorsten Quaeschning explained that they would be playing in a minor key (for at least one composition?) because the room suited that, whereupon, to demonstrate, he played two contrasting notes, one of which set the walls vibrating, and one of which didn't. He got a laugh out of the audience, but between his accent, my slightly compromised hearing (from years of unprotected concert-going) and perhaps because I was up on the balcony, I only picked out the general shape of his comments. The sonic illustration was striking, though (they opted for walls-not-vibrating mode, by the way; one guesses some bands, like Swans, might go the other route). 

Quaeschning also said something a bit arch, in outlining the plan for the night, about how they would spend a period waiting for the audience to clap, which I did hear and got a chuckle out of, since too loud/ too expressive audiences can put a damper on a show like this. In fact, just before he said this, I was posting my prayers on Facebook as the night began that the audience be skilled and attentive listeners. For a name draw like this -- a crowd that will, for example, cheer loudest for the Risky Business theme, if you see what I mean -- you have a fair chance of getting unskilled listeners, people who will chat, whoop intrusively in the middle of a performance, get out of their seats and push their way down the aisle while the band is playing, dragging you out of "the zone," so to speak, making your irritation with them the center of your attention, as opposed to the music being played. This did, in fact, happen a few times during the night, but not too badly, while I was present -- in part perhaps because, as two or three people in the audience continued their conversations into the first, subtle number, I said, loud enough for the whole balcony to hear (but not TOO loud -- I wasn't yelling, just politely assertive), "Please be quiet." This worked! ...though in part, the relatively good behaviour of the audience may also have been due to the fact that the majority of people WERE intently listening (ahh!) and their focus was contagious. The choice of an "opening act" (images of rain, lightning over water, roiling clouds, and waves, superimposed over each other, with rain sounds on the PA, suiting the "bomb cyclone" going on outside) might have helped put people in a mood, too, though there was plenty of chatter over that  (a shame, because it was sonically quite interesting and rich.... though with your eyes closed, the babble of a crowd can go together quite well with the sounds of a storm, morphing together into something quite trance inducing...). 

Of course, the irony was, for at least a couple of numbers (the second and third compositions played), the band went into some sort of Euro-disco dance club mode, with jagged flashing visuals, a strong beat, and plenty of incentive to get up and move your bodies. Which no one that I could see did, but I didn't peer over the edge of the balcony; everybody seemed to be seated, when I'd been below (so much so that there was no decent seat available, hence my move upstairs), and certainly we remained so on the balcony. Did the band play these more amped up tracks as part of a philosophy of audience engagement, or...? ("Get it out of their system if they want something they can move around to?"). Not sure - it was kind of an odd move. I didn't know the names of the compositions, didn't care for them much. But I got to hear the Sorcerer theme ("Betrayal") with my eyes closed (which came fifth in the evening) and no chatter from the crowd. That was pretty goddamn cool. While every composition had complimenting, fairly abstracted film projections to enhance the experience, it was with my eyes closed that things worked best: cascading, shimmering flurries of notes on synth and/ or violin, dragging your mind down rabbitholes of attention with much colour and curious contours, interesting shapes for the mind's eye to contemplate... quite lovely... Luckily, this describes the vast majority of what they did. 

I was very happy that the Rickshaw sounded as good as it did, too, and that maybe the name draw brought a few extra people out. I'm actually more keen to see the shows on Wednesday and Friday, but thanks to Mo and the Rickshaw staff for having facilitated this rather magical experience. (I did duck out as soon as my bladder determined it was time for me, too, to get up -- but I was underdressed for the rain and the words "bomb cyclone" are kind of intimidating, so I wanted to get home before it really started tipping... Whereupon my wife and I revisited the 80's vampire classic Near Dark, with guess-who doing the soundtrack...?). 

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Nick Jones mini-interview: Of the Pointed Sticks and the Avengers (Wednesday at the Rickshaw)

So as a physical product, the new album by the Pointed Sticks -- Beautiful Future, the third full-length they have recorded since reuniting -- is mostly sold out. A handful of copies trickled into Noize to Go, where Dale snapped my photo holding one, but the vast majority were brought to Europe with them on tour and there shall remain. But Nick Jones assures me there will there be approximately 20 copies at the Rickshaw on Wednesday. If you've been following the Pointed Sticks output, note that "for the forseeable future," there are no plans to manufacture more of these for sale in North America. Once they're gone, they're gone. Billy Wilder fans note: Gord and Nick wrote a song about him! (My favourite on the album is still "Pessimist's Son," though). 

Of course, the band will be sharing the bill with the Avengers, a legendary San Francisco punk band who have been nowhere near as prolific since their heyday, and whose best-known album only recently got reissued. They remain revered by those who were there for songs like "Cheap Tragedies" -- covered by Randy Rampage on his solo EP -- "Uh-Oh," "We Are the One," "Car Crash" and "The American in Me

I took a minute to chat with Nick about the show, and about a previous time they shared the stage with the Avengers, on September 17, 1978 at the final location of the Quadra Club (which later became Club Soda, then the Starfish Room) on Homer. 

"The show we did with the Avengers made a huge impact on us," Nick writes. "They were so cool, and had so much swagger that we thought it might be best to temper our previous comedic impulses and take ourselves a bit more seriously. Three weeks later we won the battle of the bands, which probably would not have happened without the attitude adjustment that they provided. Grateful for that. Also, Jimmy became a friend. RIP."

It's actually been awhile since I caught the Pointed Sticks. Bill Hemy was last seen by me ripping it up with Corsage at the Khats fest, and I was struck by how potent his playing was (he's "releasing his inner wildman," Nick quips). People like me, contemplating going, should avail themselves of the opportunity -- they should be in peak form.

"Well, we're certainly rehearsed for it," Jones observes. "17 shows in 23 days will do that."

The Pointed Sticks and the Avengers play the Rickshaw on Sept. 27. Read my interview with the first band on the bill, Night Court, here. Event listing here

Friday, September 22, 2023

Of HUMANS!, Bats, and Cover Art: A Night Court interview, apropos of this coming Wednesday's gig with the Pointed Sticks and San Francisco's the Avengers

IMPORTANT: Night Court has had to drop off the bill for tonight's Pointed Sticks/ Avengers show. Their next scheduled show will be Nov. 10th at Green Auto! 

So a few months ago, I wrote a piece about a gig at the Smilin' Buddha/ the SBC/ Buddha's. Invasives (interviewed here) was by far my favourite band on the bill that night; Rong was second; but in my role as witness, not counting the friends I was there with, my favourite PERSON on the stage or off was Emilor Jayne, the singer for Pet Blessings. Pet Blessings was fun, too; I didn't entirely do them justice, since the gig was just starting and I was settling in, but they certainly generated an enthusiastic response from the pit. But without fully feeling that I necessarily grokked them as deeply as one might, Emilor's exuberance was unarguably deep, sincere, infectious and truly a joy to behold. When I snapped this photo, Pet Blessings wasn't even onstage -- this was how Emilor was reacting to Rong. How can you not love it when the frontperson for the first band is right down in the pit for the second and third acts, dancin' and cheerin' and whoopin' and being an all-round kickass (if unofficial) cheerleader, raising the mojo as high as she could? Every opening act should be so enthusiastic. 

Now, Emilor is the drummer for Night Court, not the frontperson, but virtue should be rewarded, so (with the recent release of HUMANS!, the band's new album), I wrote the band (via her) to ask to do an interview. In the process, I snagged the album, praised by Big Takeover as "loose and crazy indie punk-pop with solid drive and inventive style," and set to thinking up questions. These are in italics, below; answerers names are indicated. Check out the Night Court website here (including an EP that wasn't out when this exchange happened!), and note that this is all by way of introducing them to the audience at the Rickshaw, some of whom will no doubt be seeing them for the first time when they open for the Pointed Sticks and the Avengers this Wednesday. (It will be my first time too). 

Note: if you want to check out Pet Blessings after reading this, you can see them TONIGHT, as a matter of fact, at the Red Gate...

Allan: Who are the members of Night Court, exactly, and what do you play? And what other bands do we know you from? (I know Pet Blessings is still active, since I saw them not long ago... do you all have competing projects?). There seems to be a bit of an age difference between members -- how did you get together? 

Jiffy Marx: I play bass and sing in Night Court. I also play synth and sing in Autogramm. Dave-O and I also play in a band called Jiffy Marker. Jiffy Marker hasn’t played live since before COVID but we still jam and will hopefully release some of the many recordings we’ve done since then one of these days..

Emilor: I play drums, sing and am indeed the baby of the band, a child of the 80’s! I’ve known Jiffy for almost 20 years through mutual friends and music. At the beginning of the pandemic, he reached out to me, then about 6-7 months later they sent me the demos and I was IN (because they were all killer songs!). It's true, I am in Pet Blessings, (we're playing September 22nd at Red Gate with Selfist, The Thing & Warmbelly) and I might have a couple surprises up my sleeve…
Dave-O: I play the guitar and I sing. Jiffy and I have been best buds since we were kids so this is just the latest of our many projects together, but Emilor definitely provides youthful panache ;)

What was happening/ exciting to you when you each first really started getting involved in music? What other bands - especially but not necessarily local bands - do you credit as direct influences? (Obviously I know my Guided by Voices but I actually do not really know Tony Molina or Marked Men, whom your label namechecks... I can hear it... but are there other bands we should mention?).

Emilor: I grew up basically ignoring current music and ensconced myself in the 60’s so when I started playing drums, Keith Moon was a big influence, total coincidence that I was rocking Moon hair for most of my childhood. My dad was a musician so it was natural that I would want to do it too. When I started getting into ‘current’ bands I also started playing and have never really stopped. The best thing for me now is meeting new killer musicians that keep me inspired!
Dave-O: The 90s DIY punk scene was very influential to me...too many bands to name but that's where my love for loud and shittily-produced music came from.

Do you have any history with the music of the Pointed Sticks or the Avengers? Any thoughts about the fact that you're going to be playing to a maybe slightly older demographic than was at the Lido, say? Do you change your presentation at all with such things in mind, play different songs...? (Do you ever do covers? I poked into "Kill the Poor" on bandcamp but it's not a Dead Kennedys song...).

Jiffy: We’ve done a few but usually we learn a song well enough to record it but sometimes never well enough to play it live. I was just saying on our last tour that we should learn to play "S.O.S.", our ABBA-via-The Favourites cover, so it can be a set opener. I think it is weird to open a set with a cover but in a “just crazy enough to work” sorta way!

Emilor: As a born and raised Vancouverite, playing with the Pointed Sticks is an honour, they are the nicest people and we love playing with them. Over the years, playing with bands that have more history have been some of the most rewarding aspects of doing all this, it's certainly not for money! I’ve had a few moments where I think, “15-year-old me would be losing their entire mind right now!” Very much looking forward to The Avengers!
Dave-O: I was introduced to the Avengers via a Circus Lupus cover of "We Are The One" - I'm sure this should tell us something about demographics and covers but I'm not sure exactly what...

Who is the cover artist for HUMANS!? These are fun, skillful doodles! 

Jiffy: All of the drawings are from the archive of failed artist/illustrator Jeffry Lee. He works very cheap so it was sort of a no brainer.

I am curious about a few of them. Is "Surface Licker" a COVID reference? Why is the surface licker depicted as a clown?

Jiffy: “Surface Licker” is a sort of play on words, maybe a pun? The clown drawing depicts a neon sign belonging to a store in Los Angeles called ‘Circus Liquor’. Is that a pun? Anyway not intentionally a COVID reference but as a COVID band I would think it’s fair to say it’s open to (that) interpretation!

Are there any recognizable people on this?

Jiffy: Yes but definitely no serial killers (unless you count Dick Cheney)

Who is the grimacing guy in the top right?

Jiffy: Dick Cheney.

Who is the band at a restaurant booth beneath the title?

Jiffy: Vancouver band from the early mid-00s called Big Nothing.

Is that based on a real restaurant?

Jiffy: Not that I’m aware of.

Why does one person at the table have a much larger head?

Jiffy: It was based on a dream the artist had.

Whose knees are those in the pic on the back and how did they get bloodied?

Emilor: those are my knees! I took that photo to get a better view of the damage and thought that it was a pretty great photo for a not-at-all badass incident.

You actually have a song, "What Is It Like to Be a Bat, Man?" I want to let you know here that I have a song I co-wrote with David M. of NO FUN called "If I Was a Bat," and I have another lyric about a dream I had in which I was actually Batman, but was rejected by society because of a scandal involving my LSD use (the headlines read "Batman Falls From Grace Over Drugs," that kind of thing). I pulled up the A&W in my Batmobile but they wouldn't serve me, even hid behind the counter, because I had been outed as an acid-user and my Batsuit and Batmobile suddenly seemed weirder to people, vaguely scary. I was a sad and lonely Batman... I have had other dreams of literally just being a bat, flying around. So I would like to know everything about this song. Please give me a copy of the lyrics. What inspired it? What are the themes? What are your bat stories? (There used to be a lot more bats in BC when I was a kid, but they've grown as scarce as bees).
Dave-O: Hahaha wow that is a wild dream! I've always loved watching bats...blind flying mice that eat flies using echolocation? That's fucking crazy. The lyrics are a riff on a paper by Thomas Nagel that says no amount of objective information about bats could ever give us (as humans) the subjective experience of what it actually feels like to be a bat. I believe it was intended to show that conscious experience is something more than just physiological processes (Nagel's take, not mine) but I like that it shows the limitations of what is even possible for us to 'know'.

You also have a song called "Clearcut," and that's the name of a movie I have had some involvement with and deeply love [planned screenings early November at the Cinematheque, more deets TBA]. What are the lyrics/ inspirations?

Dave-O: I just Googled 'clearcut movie' mean the one with Graham Greene? [Yep!] I'll have to check that out. That song wrote itself in my head while hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail. The trail skirts several large clearcuts and I realized that from certain vantage points, I found them to be quite beautiful - an unpopular opinion and for good reason! To be clear - I detest the practice of clearcutting but I do happen to find some of them aesthetically pleasing and that dissonance helped inform the song.

"Fuck Art School" is a fun song. Did you all have art school experiences? Was this a bonding point for the band? (Have you seen the film Art School Confidential, directed by sometimes-Crumb-collaborator Terry Zwigoff...? I kind of love it).

Jiffy: Yup, true story. Lyrics are based on a conversation I had with a friend of mine who didn’t go to art school and we were discussing who may or may not be better off for it. Agreed, great movie. Also based on a great book.

Why the name Night Court? I know this primarily as a not-great sitcom from my younger days, but surely this is not the source...? I like the idea of a punk show being a sort of "court," however, and they do tend to happen at night...

Dave-O: We had a long list of possible names but kept coming back to Night Court. Our buddy Jake thought it had to do with the length of our songs - like an actual night court would quickly issue fines for jaywalking and loitering with production-line efficiency - what's next on the docket?! I like that (and your idea of punk shows being a court) but honestly I think the name just felt right.

 Curious if you have a relationship to Maple Ridge theatrical hardcore band the Judges, by chance? Is there a theatrical element to what you do? (The Judges have actually staged trials!).

Emilor: I have not heard of this band but I always appreciate it when performances bring any element of augmented theatrics in all of its iterations.

Calling the album HUMANS! brings punks of my age to reflect on Nomeansno's song "Humans," but I think there has been a whole BAND since that song was recorded called Humans. Why HUMANS!? Which humans do you mean?

Emilor: All the humans!
Dave-O: Every single one.

You have some fun videos for your previous releases but I'm not seeing a video for HUMANS! yet. Is one planned?

Jiffy: No we decided to do less singles and no videos for the album as a sort of experiment.. possibly a failed one.

Emilor: Jiffy, it’s not too late to whip one up!

Anything else we should say about the Rickshaw show, the Rickshaw, or current live plans?

Jiffy: We are hoping to have enough downtime to start recording demos for the next thing but also in the meantime we have a limited edition lathe-cut 7” coming out on Halloween.

Dave-O: Can't wait!

Emilor: So excited to play the Rickshaw, best venue in town! Happy Halloween!

More to come with Nick Jones of the Pointed Sticks. Tickets to see Night Court, the Pointed Sticks, and the Avengers here! More information on the Pet Blessings Red Gate show (tonight!) here

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Tales from the Rickshaw: of John Cooper Clarke and Clash road manager Johnny Green!!! (and Mike Garry and the Merch Guy)

John Cooper Clarke last night at the Rickshaw, by Allan MacInnis

Johnny, I never knew ye! Mr. Green, I have a link below you'll perhaps want to visit (a piece of historical writing that I did which involves you; my apologies that it wasn't forefront in my mind when I was interacting with you, but I did not know that's what I was doing). First, I hope you don't mind if I give some backstory to my readers about our brief conversation. I will omit potentially compromising details (but I will report, what I believe, was a joke on your part, though it took me awhile to realize it!).  

So... scene: Rickshaw merch table, where I opened one of Dr Clarke's two books (the one I read roughly half of when thinking I might get to interview him). There, against my hopes, I discovered he had signed it. Obviously this needed to be bought -- if not for me, then for someone else -- but it turned out that, inquiring into the price, that, having tipped both servers who had served me that evening (and bought two drinks for myself), I was now $1.75 short in a cash-only context to pay the full (very reasonable) $25. Check the wallet, check the pockets: no more coins. The merch guy -- a Brit on the tour, too, of perhaps a slightly younger vintage than Dr. Clarke (but not much), whose identity I did not establish -- forgave me and expected nothing more, but (slinking away sheepishly), after a moment's contemplation (and imagining scenarios in which I tried, say, to borrow $1.75 off Mo, which prospect I just did not feel comfortable with) and otherwise wrestling with myself, shook my head, raced up the Rickshaw stairs, and took $20 out of the account I'm trying not to touch via the ATM that would charge me three dollars extra, so I could a) buy a Coke - to get change, y'see; -- and race back down the opposite stairs to give the merch guy five dollars -- "because," as I said to him when I did it, "I'd rather pay too much than pay too little." 

He chuckled and seemed to appreciate the gesture. 

Well, I am glad I did this, because a) having bought something, even if for someone other than myself, and b) having in effect tipped this dude, albeit for the equivalent of a small coffee, this then emboldened me, a bit later on, to ask the same merch guy if Dr. Clarke would maybe sign a couple of records after the show was over. The merch guy told me that I should wait by the door, while he was handling merch transactions, then -- when the door opened -- directed the emcee for the evening, who had been introduced by Dr. Clarke as Johnny Green, to take me back to get my records signed. And so I found myself in the Rickshaw green room with Dr. John Cooper Clarke, after the show, as well as said Green (at this point I did not realize who he was or that I had written about him, briefly); and the wife of either one of them (or perhaps Mike Garry, the Manchester poet who opened). 

Johnny Green introducing John Cooper Clarke

Well, what does one say? It ended up that I jabbered a bit about John Otway, URGH! (my introduction to both Dr. Clarke and Mr. Otway) and the Minimalist Jug Band (who I believe has opened for both men in the past and who will be opening for Otway at LanaLou's on November 4th). But by way of breaking the ice, I wanted to be social and offer them something, some welcome-to-Vancouver kind of thing. And there I was, without any Timbits; all I had with me were some cannabis gummies. Perhaps cannabis gummies also say, "Welcome to Vancouver?" Hell, Are they even legal in the UK? These were Pearls, the black container ones, the high-CBN items (also with some CBD and less THC): ideal for relaxing and/or sleeping, but also slightly intoxicating. 

Maybe they had jetlag? A sleep aid would perhaps be helpful? 

Besides, being the kiss and tell type, just as I have let the world know that I gave tentacle porn to Lemmy Kilmister (but can't say if he watched it), I knew I would get to say I offered drugs to a man who bought heroin off Chet Baker (even if he didn't take them). A story is, after all, a story (you've read this far, right?).  

So that seemed like a fun thing to do: "Uh, would anyone like some cannabis gummies?" I explain their aforesaid properties and crack the seal. And while I will not disclose whether anyone actually took them, I hope Johnny Green won't mind my recording that he did NOT take one, saying something like, "Bah, rubbish! You know what I always say" (standing close -- tall and a tad intimidating -- and pointing a finger in my chest), "Soft drugs are for soft people!"

It takes a while to process this, during which time I have to go through a few layers of response, unvoiced and refreshing in my brain every few seconds, replacing the previous reaction:

1. Wait, are you insulting me? What the fuck?

2. Wait, no, it's worse, maybe: are you actually offended that I am offering cannabis? Did I just fuck up? Will I still get my records signed?

3. But, uh, it's true, I am kinda soft. Fat, too! Physically and spiritually soft. Mishima would disapprove. Should I say something in defense of softness? "Soft is love! What's wrong with being soft?"

My mind tries to formulate a soft-positive comeback, but finds itself sliding down a cliff without purchase. None of the alternatives that spin unvoiced through my mind seem fitting. And Johnny is still standing close, watching me think about it. You will here understand that I had already had a gummy myself, a bit earlier; I'm not drooling but I'm sideways enough that I've been contemplating that the shadows over John Cooper Clarke's eyes, seen through his shades, bear an uncanny resemblance to the eye makeup worn by John Travolta in The Devil's Rain, my favourite occult horror film. Is this a design feature or an accident?

4. After a few minutes, it comes clear in my head that the inverse of "Soft drugs are for soft people" is "Hard drugs are for hard people." It takes a few minutes for me to piece this together. Is he stating a preference for hard drugs? How does one respond to THAT -- "I'm sorry, I didn't bring any heroin with me...?"

5. I scan back and do a fast recap of interpretations 1-4 and give a sorta-chuckle-or-something, stammering in confusion: "Wait, what... uh...," I say, and he says, turning to take a seat, "Make of that what you will," or something to that effect. He's apparently enjoyed my befuddlement, which I am now thinking might have been the point: it was some sort of one-on-one impromptu hazing ritual he's pulled on me. I've been, kinda, pranked, or at least subject to some memorable wit, and I'm impressed: this man has a rich and colourful sense of humour, apparently, and a larger-than-usual personality (which also manifested on stage, where he was sort of an interim act during his introductions). Thankfully, our further chatting was a bit easier on my brain, as I babbled about Otway and the Minimalist Jug Band, etc. (with whom I talk about Dr. Clark here). 

There was a bit more to the interaction, tho'. Green (who remained steadfast in his lack of interest in gummies) made sure that Dr. Clarke added (as to per my request) "to Al" on my copy of Zip Style Method, having examined the cover, commenting as he did (while Dr. Clarke signed the back of Snap, Crackle, & Bop) on the decisiveness of ZSM's front cover as a representation of Dr. Clarke, and adding that it was the image of Dr. Clarke with his hands in the pockets that made the back work so well. 

For my part, standing there awkwardly, I explained to the room that both the Minimalist Jug Band and myself were named Al and this way, if I predeceased Al, he could have both the record AND the inscription, if you see what I mean. 

I guess it's a weird thing to have someone want to live for -- "I just hope, whatever happens, that I outlive Al MacInnis, so I get that record" but, y'know, whatever, I'm the architect of this situation, I can't blame him if the thought flickers; maybe it will serve as motivation through a health crisis or something? ("If I die now, I won't get that signed Zip Style Method." We all need SOMETHING to live for, right?) 

And I got to get a good photo of Dr. Clarke's cool (snakeskin?) boots:

Anyhow, to their credit, I guess, everyone in the green room seemed amused by my babbling, affable, relaxed, and accepting of me, "soft person" or not. Plus, as you see, I got me rekkids signed. Only after I left did Erik Iversen (thanks, Erik) fill me in on who I had just interacted with, besides Dr. Clarke; he'd read Green's book, A Riot of Our Own (Erik is actually much better read on music history than I am) and was fully hip to who we had seen (he enthusiastically recommends said book, by the by). From the publisher's page: 

Johnny Green was a footloose slacker who loved punk rock, stumbled into being a roadie for the Sex Pistols, then tripped again into a job pushing sound equipment for the Clash and driving their beat-up van to performances in the mean industrial towns of England. Disaffected youth anointed the Clash as their spokesmen and made the group synonymous with punk itself in the late 1970s. Eventually becoming the band's road manager, Green had a unique vantage point from which to witness the burgeoning punk rock movement while helping the band in their perpetual search for women, booze, and drugs. Green was with the Clash when they conquered America, bringing with them their bad behavior and great music, and burning out after their third, too-long tour. Written in a tell-it-as-it-was style and accompanied by contemporaneous drawings by Ray Lowry, who tagged along with the Clash on their American tour as their official "war artist," A Riot of Our Own pierces the heart of the culture and music of punk rock and the people who lived it.

And indeed, as I say, I HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT JOHNNY GREEN MYSELF, in the Montecristo article entitled (and about) "That Time the Clash Played Soccer with a Bunch of Vancouver Punks." It was only one sentence, and it was based around a quote from the Pointed Sticks' vocalist, who was in the soccer game himself (the Pointed Sticks, note, play the Rickshaw in a couple of weeks, with Night Court before them and the Avengers after them; more on that to come). Quoting myself:

Clash road manager Johnny Green was charming to the girls off the field, but—according to Nick Jones—was “a big monster, playing as though his life depended on it” during the game itself.

Aggressive at football, sharp of wit: honour to meet you, Mr. Green! 

As for the show: John Cooper Clarke was very entertaining. Mike Garry was moving, funny and captivating too, but surprisingly much harder to follow than John Cooper Clarke, considering the general speed of Dr. Clarke's delivery. Both men got ample laughs from us, generally in-between poems, but Dr. Clarke's jests were significantly developed and expansive enough to serve as a sort of secondary act, like he was a poet in between bursts of his own variant of standup comedy, which was just as fun as his poetry, if somewhat more old-fashioned: I would not be surprised to discover that some of his jokes date back to the Manchester equivalents of Henny Youngman or WC Fields. Maybe he lifted one or two off Bernard Manning himself (the man who gave him his first stable gig, pretty much around the time I was being born, I think, whom Garry also namechecked apropos of a mention of his Manchester venue, the Embassy). Manning would have enjoyed some of his one-liners, like the one that framed marriage in terms of playing cards, with the marriage starting on a "a heart and a diamond" and two weeks later had you wishing for "a club and a spade." (This was apropos of a performance of "I've Fallen in Love with my Wife"). 

There was also a routine involving anyone over 60 being a "bed-blocker" in the UK medical system, interfering with younger and more vital people getting care, apropos of "Bed Blocker Blues." Dr. Clarke riffed for a few minutes on this theme, taking in Swiss assisted suicide clinics, which he may not realize had a local resonance here in Vancouver in the death of Elizabeth Fischer, and joking about having Alzheimers, explaining that it had three good points: that you could hide your own Easter eggs; that you met new people every day; and that, third... (he let us wait for it), you could hide your own Easter eggs. 

As Dr. Clarke might say (adopting an unexpected US-gangster-style accent), Geddit? 

Mike Garry

Clarke was very funny, in any case, and did very fun deliveries of several poems I did not know ("She's Got a Metal Plate in Her Head," for instance) and a few most of us likely did. He explained, by way of introducing "Beasley Street," that it was frequently framed as a commentary on Thatcher's Britain, but that in fact he wrote it eighteen months before she took office; he also did an "Evidently Chickentown" with "fucking" instead of "bloody" as the default descriptor (and some humming-through of a line he'd forgotten). He didn't actually manage to get off the stage for the encore ("I was going to milk it, but there were stairs involved," so he just about-faced and came back), but he did give us "I Wanna Be Yours" as a show-closer. I like that well enough, but my favourite of the ones I knew was and remains "Twat," performed earlier. He invited the audience to chime in on the last line, without telling us what it was, then, when it came around, pointed the microphone out towards us and let us do it all ourselves.

I was very pleased that a good number of us called out this word zestily: "Twat!" we shouted, and he deadpanned, "Right on time..."

(Actually, it was a superb audience. I haven't been this impressed with an audience's listening skills as the time that the whole Rickshaw listened attentively to Ford Pier as he opened for Bob Mould. I fancy I had had a hand in that, having written a very well-timed feature about Ford, immediately prior to that show, but tonight I can take no credit. This was, simply, an intelligent, civil, and impressively full house.Which was nice, because I had misgivings that I'd made the right choice -- I could have been watching Iggy Pop in Victoria, after all. "Would a noisy audience ruin the night?" was definitely on the list of things to worry about, along with, "Would the house be inadequately filled?" and "Would I understand Dr. Clarke's Britishisms?").

Happy to report: I made the right choice. By the by, Mike Garry mentioned Iggy by way of introducing a poem during his set written about Tony Wilson (the subject of 24 Hour Party People -- the character played by Steve Coogan -- who also appears in John Cooper Clarke's memoir). This poem, "St. Anthony," managed to speak to me even without my having as deep an investment in Wilson, who I know about as little about as I do, say, Terri Hooley (though more than I do about Johnny Green). It was also the subject of a video which played before Garry took the stage. This video in fact features Iggy Pop; if you are contemplating seeing John Cooper Clarke, I would recommend arriving early, to also see Green and Garry. 

Final note: Clarke coughed a few times tonight. I hope he didn't catch something on the plane over...! (His delivery was very enjoyable and fluid, though).