Tuesday, August 30, 2005

When he left Boston, Lincolnshire after teaching for a year at Kitwood School, my dad received a poem entitled “Ode to a Canuck” as a parting gift from the staff. It mentions the newborn me: “If Robert gets tired of Vancouver, you’ll know he’s an Englishman through and through.”

I do get tired of Vancouver, though I often don’t realize it until I go somewhere else.

I got back from Ontario last week. It was a three-leg trip, with three days in Toronto showing Cypress around the city, then renting a car and driving to Fancy’s parents’ place in Fulton, then leaving Cypress with the grandparents and driving back to Toronto for a three-day blowout of fun.

I like Toronto very much. As a non-car-owning person, the place has its shit together in ways that Vancouver never will. Although Vancouver has done well in maintaining a livable downtown core, Toronto simply crushes this town in terms of urban neighbourhoods. Rents are also pretty comparable to Vancouver, based on what we heard from our small sampling of friends.

As Adam Honsinger pointed out, the major drawback to Toronto is that you have to travel so far to escape from the place. On the West Coast, it’s not a big hassle to get away from people for a spell.

(For fans of Mr. Honsinger, our host for the first leg, he and Rain are doing great. He says they’ll probably move back to B.C. once the obligations keeping them in Ontario ease up.)

I met my Unrestrained! boss Adrian “The Energizer” Bromley during both stints in Toronto for fine dining on the U! expense account and some record shopping. He was nursing a fresh tattoo on his lower arm that I tried not to look at too closely, as the affected skin was threatening to flake off onto his pancakes. That aside, the Energizer is a top man and a fantastic tour guide. By the time I said goodbye, I had a serious case of Phonographic Digititis, AKA Album Finger, the grimy fingertip encrustation contracted from afternoons spent flipping through old LPs.

Adrian also let me pillage his shoeboxes full of promos, so I brought home a stupid amount of new music.

Fancy’s parents’ place was as weird as ever. Her folks are excellent hosts, but they (more precisely, her mom) can wear you down. We took advantage of the car to make a couple side trips to Hamilton and Niagara Falls. Hamilton is a bit like Toronto meets John Waters’ Baltimore, while Niagara Falls is crazily tacky and random, with a long avenue of gentlemen’s clubs and motels culminating in an explosion of arcades, fast food, thrill rides, spook houses and wax museums. And if you can tear yourself away from all that, you can walk down the hill and see the pretty waterfalls.

Back home on the grandparents' farm, Cypress caught frogs, packs of coyotes disemboweled sheep in the night, Fancy’s mom lamented the ulcers that would soon fester on her legs, and Fancy, Cypress and I played lots of Scrabble.

The final few days in Toronto were taxing but fun. The first two nights we stayed with Fancy’s hard-rocking high school friend Joan, drinking and dining almost exclusively at Sneaky Dee’s. I just laid low and supped pints while Fancy and friends got caught up and reminisced about their bizarro alternate universe where kids have fun in high school. Two nights of that and I was well into injury time and ready to lay off the ale for a bit... For our last night in Toronto we left poor Joan to sleep in her own bed again and called up Bonnie Bowman. Bonnie’s a riot and has a million hilarious stories, but she’s pretty nocturnal. We managed to keep up the pace, though, and hit the pit about 4 am. We slept till noon, grabbed some breakfast and got a cab to the airport.

The overbooked flight and the non-service of the Air Canada crew left us wishing we’d stayed in Toronto. Our first day back in Vancouver wasn’t very joyous (except for sleeping in our glorious bed), and I felt zombified and disconnected from everything and everyone. Then the next evening, I got a potent dose of Super Robertson after I bumped into him out on Main. We compared notes on Air Canada (the Super family returned to Vancouver from Toronto the same day we did, sans luggage) and had a laugh and I felt a lot better. Just the man I needed to see to get me grounded in this town again.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

This entry arises partially out of the need to fill some column inches and tamp the Bee Gees down, out of your line of sight.

I just finished working on the new issue of Unrestrained! (should be out by the end of August). In addition to the copyediting, I did three stories for #28—Circus Maximus (righteous Norwegian prog-metal, just the way blacknblues likes it), Frameshift (in which we learn of the dangers of hiring Sebastian Bach to sing your concept album about human tendencies towards violence), and Presto Ballet.

For the last piece I talked to Kurdt Vanderhoof, who wrote all the music for the project in between his main gig with Metal Church. Presto Ballet is a riotous take on seventies American pomp-prog—sort of a cheekily grand illusion of The Grand Illusion. Twenty-five years ago it would have been all over the radio, which is mildly interesting to ponder, but that kind of hypothetical crap doesn’t help Vanderhoof’s cause. He’s not worried about airplay anyway; he’s just enjoying working in his studio and being the old-school rock guy.

Here are some bits I transcribed but had to cut out of the article.

[ME] Do you still have to sacrifice as much as you used to in order to play music?

[KV] Oh, absolutely—any kind of stability, any kind of relationship, any kind of money. I’m still pretty much living the way I was when I was 19…which gets a little bit old, but you get used to it.

You’re a big fan and advocate of analog sounds and analog recording. Does it freak you out that they’re not manufacturing recording tape anymore?


Where’s it going to come from?

They’re still manufacturing it, but the bigger companies aren’t doing it as much. It’s more boutique now. Smaller companies are still making it, because most of the major industry studios and producers and stuff still want analog tape. There’s definitely still a market for it, but it’s not enough of a market to keep the big companies going, like Quantegy, Ampex, and BASF. There’s not enough recording studios, because most of us who work in the studio or own studios, the demo market is completely gone because people, instead of spending $3000 to make a good demo, they just go spend $3000 and buy themselves a digital rig for home. They don’t go spend the time in the studio. The big studios are almost all gone unless you’re a major, major studio. But for the rest of us, you can still buy tape, although the big companies quit making it. I just found this out about six weeks ago; you can still get tape. It’s a little more expensive and you have to really know where to go look. You can’t just go buy it like you used to. Tape sounds better and everybody knows it.

So obviously your studio is equipped with a tape deck.

Yeah, two-inch tape, exactly.

Have you made any concessions to computer recording?

Yeah, I have my own digital rig here in my house and I do my writing on it, which is fantastic for the creation process. I’ll totally give digital the tip of the hat in that respect, for the writing, but for actually putting out finished products, it still sounds like crap. It’s a great tool for the creation process. Sitting in front of my computer, the shit you can do is amazing, but it’s nothing that I would ever use to put out a finished product. It’s just for coming up with the ideas. The cut-and-paste editing is just amazing to try new arrangements, and it sounds good, but it doesn’t sound like a record. It beats the hell out of the old cassette four track.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

In 1978, my Aunt Ev and Uncle John got me this poster for Christmas.

I remember I opened it alone, unfurling it only enough to see their faces, then shoving it under my bed in horror. Good thing I just took a peek, because seeing Maurice's profile probably would have blinded me, then killed me. Great. Anyway, my holidays had been ruined.

I think this is also why I share Fancy's dislike of white pants. "I invite your stains," they say. No thank you.