Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Except for maybe Nanaimo bars, music is my favourite thing to gorge on over the holidays. I can’t get over how well it all works out—people ask me what I’d like for Christmas, I list off a bunch of albums, then I get them a week or two later! So excellent.

People were good to me this year. My sister got me Keith Jarrett’s Always Let Me Go, a live set recorded in Tokyo. Keith and band are free and easy on this recording, quite unlike the gig that the belter and I attended in October 2001 (one of the more stellar nights of my life), where they performed extended versions of jazz standards. Here they’re left to their own improvisatory devices, stretching 8 tunes over two discs.

My parents got me Chick Corea & Gary Burton’s Crystal Silence. I once borrowed this from my friend Chris Scum after he got it for two bucks at a swap meet and subsequently raved to me about it. I hadn’t been able to find it on CD or vinyl, but Sally hit the motherlode at The Magic Flute. The music is vibes and piano, sometimes laid back, sometimes laying down a holocaust. At their jauntier moments, I half expect them to launch into the Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood theme.

It was an ECM kind of Christmas.

My good man Smash gave me a tape with Masters of Reality Sunrise on the Sufferbus on one side, and Bad Brains on the other. That Masters album is a hoedown/meltdown proposition, sheer Beatles ‘n’ Cream goodness featuring Ginger Baker with a bellyful of tea and a brainpan bubbling over with grooves, laying lumber to the trap set. Haven’t listened to the Brains side yet.

JR, flyin’ the flannel, summoned the spirit of ’93 with a Pumpkins vid and a CDR of Nirvana rarities. Headless Kurt couldn’t keep himself away this year, in tandem with fellow dead celebs Elvis and Michael Jackson. Stay dead already!

Gary K came through with Shut Up You Fucking Baby!, 2 CDs of David Cross doing standup. It’s not music, but it still rocks. I saw him at a GBV show once.

Happy new year to all the Difficult Musicians out there!

Sunday, December 29, 2002

These are the geniuses (genii?) behind the human cloning scandal. It's clearly a slow week for news.

I make note of this for two reasons. One, "Rael" was the hero of Genesis's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The movement's headquarters is in Quebec, which was the first North American territory to embrace the eccentric British quintet. Two, our "friend with a smile radiating with harmony" looks a lot like Geoff Tate of Queensryche!
The Five Days of Christmas
I worked on Christmas Eve. Everyone started taking off after lunch, and by 2:00 the whole floor was deserted. I went home to wrap presents. That night, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…because it had been crushed by one of our traps! Such killing isn’t in the spirit of the season, but our battle against the Wenonah rodents can’t take a holiday. I managed to dispose of the carcass before Cypress saw it.

Christmas Day was hectic but good. Cypress was up around 8 and immediately found Moff outside on the kitchen window sill. Moff was a dollar store reindeer we left beside the eggnog and cookies for Santa to find, the idea being that Claus would need an extra deer at some point on Christmas Eve. Donner, Blitzen and the others aren’t getting any younger. The old Santa magic would transform Moff’s hollow plastic form into a full-size flying reindeer. And once the toy delivery was done, Santa would drop Moff back at our place. Which is what happened. Unfortunately Moff’s hide took a beating overnight and sloughed off a bit. Cypress had a dodgy moment when she noticed that. We saved her from the dead mouse, but we didn’t anticipate Moff’s fur-retention deficiencies. The belter saved the day by pointing out the giant stuffed dog under the tree. Close one.

On Boxing Day, with Cypress off with her dad for round four of her gift deluge (round one: us; round two: Mel and Adam’s; round three: mom and dad’s), we went to the Sox house for the annual booze-up. Mighty sketchy as always—sitting around in the hallway with Doug’s girlfriend Hilda offering ’round tequila out of jam jars. I allowed Ken to rope me into jamming for a bit, which was okay. Smash and I held things together. A typical Boxing Day for me, except for the lack of shopping. Just as well. I’m not into it that much anymore.

The 27th…what did I do on the 27th? Oh, yeah, I went to JR’s place to pick up my gift. Bumped into him outside his apartment and went to the post office in Lougheed Mall with him. Heard about the latest episode with his dad. JR’s gift was the only present-related mishap of the season. I already owned half of what was inside the box (Bjork: Live at Shepherd’s Bush video). No big deal! Later that night I hooked up with Willingdon Black and visited the Shockk Centre for the first time in a long time. Jammed for a bit, double-drumming with Shockk, who always cracks me up with the fills he attempts—he makes me quite jealous, actually, because he pulls off stuff I can’t get my head around at all. I also scored a copy of the Mongoose CD, which I’ve got to sit down and listen to shortly. (It’s on right now, and it rips! Let’s All Go to the Restaurant!)

I finally did some shopping on the 28th. The belter and I exchanged the gift we’d gotten Mel & Adam and got a load of on-sale stuff for them. We hit A&B, and I got an Alice Coltrane CD and a Goblin compilation, while the belter got the latest Dolly Parton, the one with “Stairway to Heaven” on it (which is a wicked version…I heard it this morning). I also went to Scratch. I wanted to get a Bad Wizard album, but I settled for the new Godspeed You Black Emperor.

Now I have to go back to work tomorrow. I’ve had a nice break, but it hasn’t been long enough to settle into a routine of non-routine, you know?

Next time out, I’ll do a roundup of all the great music I got from all the great people I know.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Point Form is All the Rage
Highlights of the week so far:

*Found a copy of the Courier on the bus up to SFU and read the belter’s story again. That was nice. What’s not nice is the illustration that accompanies the story. It’s bad on so many levels that it makes my brain hurt. Not to mention my eyes.
*Listened to two guys on the Millennium line discuss SkyTrain fatalities. Apparently last Friday some Darwin Awards nominee found himself on the wrong platform at Nanaimo Station, saw his train coming, and decided to cross the tracks to try to make it to the other side. Too late. Splat. This was the jumping off point (har har) for their conversation. One of them saw this guy commit suicide at Broadway Station. “You might think there’d be lots of blood, but there wasn’t. The wheels of the train sealed the body parts off. Cauterized ’em, man.” Then the other guy started talking about how he once rescued someone who wandered onto the tracks. Nobody else on the platform would step forward to save this suicidal soul, but our hero was the take-charge sort: “I had too much love in my heart to let it happen.” Followed by a discussion of society’s indifference, apathy, etc.

*Read a lovely story called “Peter Shelley” by Patrick Marber. It packed a lot into a short space—punk rock, British grottiness, teenagers losing their virginity. I did a bit of research and learned that Marber is not only a playwright, actor, and comedian, he also co-created Alan Partridge and appeared on Knowing Me Knowing You. I hate him.
*Risotto! Kitchen improv by the belter based on a J. Oliver recipe. It’s pure goodness; absolute “hits the spot, sticks to the ribs” eating satisfaction. It’s Kraft Dinner for the classy. We watched Mr. Bean (having missed the Grinch) and ate ourselves into oblivion. And I got leftovers for lunch…a bit putty-like on the second day, but still so cheesy and salty and good.

*Learned of Smash’s plan to convert everyone he meets into fans of either Firebird or Masters of Reality. I’ve volunteered some time and resources for the cause. “We’ll be doing good work. Maybe even saving lives,” he says. The spirit of the season is alight in Smash’s heart.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Blessed Be the Listmakers
I’d just put my "Best of 2001" CD behind me when the Energizer requested a top 15 of 2002 list from me for the next issue of U!

This is what I came up with. Bear in mind that it's all U!-approved stuff, and doesn't include artists like Young and Sexy, Japancakes, Radiogram, and Sonic Youth, all of whom would have made my "real" top 15:
1. Porcupine Tree – In Absentia (Lava/Atlantic)
2. Opeth – Deliverance (Music For Nations/Koch)
3. Half Man – Red Herring (Beard of Stars Records)
4. Arcturus – The Sham Mirrors (The End)
5. Agalloch – The Mantle (The End)
6. Dead Meadow – Howls From the Hills (Tolotta)
7. Flower Kings – Unfold the Future (InsideOut)
8. Isis – Celestial (Ipecac)
9. Boards of Canada – Geogaddi (Warp)
10. Queens of the Stone Age – Songs For the Deaf (Interscope)
11. Soilwork – Natural Born Chaos (Nuclear Blast)
12. Spock’s Beard – Snow (Metal Blade)
13. Electric Wizard – Let Us Prey (The Music Cartel)
14. Deus ex Machina – Cinque (Cuneiform)
15. Threshold – Critical Mass (InsideOut)

Compiling it made me realize that I didn’t have much time to listen to music this year. I've probably only listened to #1 three or four times all the way through. It’s all relative though. I’d have music on 16 hours a day if I could. It’s a drag I can’t use my commuting time to listen to stuff. If I had a Discman that actually worked on the bus, that didn’t skip at the slightest tremor, I’d still suffer from headphone paranoia. I like to leave my ears open when I’m out in the world. I need my hearing for survival. One minute I’d be enjoying, say, the stark beauty of Neurosis; the next I’d be run over by some sketchoid riding his bike on the sidewalk. I find it impossible to relax when I can’t hear what’s going on around me.

I also worry about headphone leakage, that trebly mewling that cuts through all Translink ambience. When I hear it emanating from someone a few seats away I like to play “Name That Tune.” I used to be quite good at it, but I can’t tell what the kids listen to anymore. Sometimes, though, I’ll hear a youngster listening to something ancient like AC/DC, and it’ll make my day.

If some fellow travelers clued into what I was listening to, they’d either laugh at me or beat me up.

Friday, December 13, 2002

One of our ex-classmates likes to use the class email list as a pulpit from which to lecture us about how we should vote, what sports teams we should cheer for, what dodgy writers’ festivals we should attend, and so on. Yesterday he went off about the Olympic referendum (or is it a plebiscite?) and how we’d become the laughing stock of the world if Vancouver voters turned down the chance of hosting the Winter Games.

The thing is, Vancouver isn’t a wintery city. A snowfall that stays on the ground for more than a couple days is an anomaly. Maybe if the Winter Olympics included events based on what you can do with slush (Figure Sliding, Slush Dancing, Cross-Country Slipping, Slushball Face-Washing Battles), then Vancouverites might relate more to the concept of hosting the games.

You could argue that Vancouver’s a winter city only because some of its citizens have the leisure time and the money to travel every weekend to places that have real snow. The majority of us haven’t been to Whistler and wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves if we went there. People who live in cities where they skate hand-in-hand on the river, where children enjoy sweet, snow-cooled maple sugar treats, and bonhommes de neige enchant passers-by on every thoroughfare could probably get their heads around hosting the Olympics. The Games would meld nicely with other civic activities. But in Vancouver—my Vancouver? Nah.

So, with an Olympics potentially in my backyard, I’m keeping an eye on the weather. Last night seemed downright warm. After I got home from the STC Christmas Party I collected the belter from her office and we walked up to the Cottage Bistro to see The Beggars (Super, Shockk and Smash) and the Neins.

We caught the end of the Beggars’ set. They were pretty fun. They drew a little from Jackass Has Haybreath (but damn, I missed “SarahLou2”), some Represented, and a bit of what I assume was the Super Robertson back catalogue. Shockk rocked the kit, Smash made bass faces, and SR pivoted and postured in that slow-motion manner of his—like Neil Armstrong stepping away from the LEM.

The Neins are kind of cute. M/F vocals lead the charge. The girl with gauchos on sang with her hand at her right ear through the whole show, and I don’t know why. The guy with the guitar has a plain sort of voice, but does well with it. When he says “Thanks, guys” after every song I detect a British accent. This was the second time I’ve seen them, and I recognized a number of the songs. They’ve got a handful of good ones (which is a handful more than most bands) in a ’60s Kinks vein. If The Neins had existed back then, their local paper would’ve dubbed them a “beat group.”

After the show, Smash and I had a laugh about one of the funnier bits of the new Opeth album—this insane syncopated pattern that dominates the second half of the title track. Good old Smash; kindred spirit to the end. The belter and I walked home with CT and Super, ladies in front, men behind. Super started talking about the Sons of Freedom and singing “Fuck the System,” and that's when the length of my day and the late hour finally caught up to me. It took all of my resources to say goodnight to them properly when it was time for Jenn and me to cross the street to our place.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

“What’s new?” I hear no one ask. I’ve been heeding the call to make stuff. On Monday night we started our Christmas card production line. We’re using the usual junk you find in the bins at Urban Source—stickers, rough-milled paper, colour tag, glitter, cord, ribbon. Sounds very thrifty, but I figure our homespun seasonal greetings came out to $8.75 per unit…not including labour. Damn you, Martha Stewart, and your quaint holiday suggestions.

I think they’ve turned out great, I must say. I get the same feeling I get when I make a homemade CD. It's very satisfying to stack them all up and feel the weight of them, to think "those didn't exist a couple days ago." And I was very careful to not cut off my fingertips with the X-acto blade (though I did prick my thumb with the friggin' thing). That counts for something, too. There aren’t many cards to go around, so If you get one, rejoice in our sketchy craftiness.

I realize this doesn’t sound very rock ‘n’ roll. I realize I’m slowly turning into Norris Cole. (That rhymes!) I tried to keep the faith. I really tried. While we worked I put on Sounds Like Christmas by The December People. After getting it as a promo from Unrestrained! last year, I hoped I could make this a Mule holiday favourite. Because, as I wrote in my Other Press review, the gift of laughter is the greatest gift of all, right? Well, this tradition in the making got off to a slow start. Christ on a crutch, it’s an awful record.

I had an epiphany on Monday night. Just as Christmas isn’t sexy (I won’t get into that here), Christmas does not rock.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

Grand Funk Railway
Stoke brought the amps, Roadbed supplied the kit, and the Railway Club provided the venue for Thursday night’s pre-Christmas rock extravaganza.

I spent some quality time with Shockk before the show. He was quite shockked up about a recent purchase—none other than Into the Pandemonium! 15 years old and still ahead of its time, you know. As the creepy Deadhead girl in the final episode of Freaks and Geeks said, “I wish I never heard it, just so I could hear it again for the first time.”

Smash slipped me the new Flower Kings album. Bleedin’ hell, another double CD in the house. You might think that today’s prog bands have to work twice as hard as their forefathers in order to put out a double album. Even most single CDs are the length of a typical double album back in the day. But I reckon the musicians must enjoy rising to the challenge—after all, they get to solo for twice as long as they used to, and they needn’t worry about the logistics of cutting 28-minute album sides. So away they go, producing the likes of Flower Power and Unfold the Future, which make Tales from Topographic Oceans seem like a Ramones 45. Well, not really.

Stoke played lots of new material, and I think this rattled Willingdon Black a bit. I’m not a big fan of debuting new material myself, so I could relate. He got stronger as the set progressed, and the applause he got for the “Bad Tattoo” solo did my heart good.

I think I’ve reached the point where I’m not too freaked out about attending Stoke shows. A nice buffer of time has developed. I can enjoy the songs as a casual audience member without getting all wrapped up in it. And I can enjoy the fact that it’s them, not me, up on stage.

They played “Anneka” last. The true hilarity of this song hit me hard. I remember when we were bandying about the idea of making it about Ms. Di Lorenzo. “You’ve got to say something about ‘based on a concept by Gore Vidal’ in there,” I said. That was my single contribution to this song (and, in fact, to the Stoke catalog). I’m pretty sure now, though, that Caligula’s credits read “Based on a screenplay by Gore Vidal.” Oh well, it’s done, it’s recorded, it’s out there and loved by all who hear it. Fact-checking Mule thwarted again.

Shockk gave me his band beer tickets, so I grabbed a pint between sets. The prick behind the bar made a big song and dance about it. “Oh, everybody but the band is drinkin’ free tonight!” I tipped him and didn’t return. Fuck him. 1/3 of the band has the straight edge—boo-hoo for the Railway Club. Despite this, my IPA had no bitter aftertaste.

Roadbed were enjoyably…different this evening. Super’s new bass was super twangy, introducing Geddy Lee/Rob Wright tonalities to the traditional Roadbed sound. His preference for playing with a pick down toward the bridge exacerbated this. To be honest, it was a bit distracting until Smash stepped in with some new settings for the bass amp.

Before the amp-tweaking occurred however, Roadbed delivered the highlight of the evening in the form of a new instrumental that was by far the craziest thing they’ve ever done. It sounded like friggin’ Watchtower or Cynic! I had a big idiot grin on my face through the whole number. This wasn’t the old Roadbed. They didn’t scrape off their makeshift “jazzy indie-rock” label as much as take a blowtorch to it then spit upon the ashes. Maybe Shockk’s ELP(owell) shirt was a forewarning of the hypercomplex holocaust they smacked me in the gob with…or maybe it was to blame.

Shortly after that insane exursion, they busted out with another new number. I don’t know what it was called, but I’m pretty sure you spell it D-O-O-M. I can’t wait to hear it again. They claimed they got it off Ian Curtis right before he offed himself. Well, Chuck Eddy thinks Joy Division are a heavy metal band, and judging by this new song, Roadbed have made the connection too.

The rest of the set exploited the rockin’ side of the Roadbed sound. “Late for Work” and “Jazz Pack” were performed at warp speed, strings threatening to break and fingertips to melt. “Time to Shockk” suffered a bit from Robertson grappling with a still-unfamiliar fretboard. “Scarb Jacket,” that glorious Max Websterian Canrock classic, was solid as ever. They encored with a 10-minute “Gibbering Fool,” a tune that seems as old as time itself. I remember walking into the Cottage Bistro 23 years ago and watching them play this song. When they hit the pre-chorus, I thought, “These guys must like They Might Be Giants.” We’ve gotten along swimmingly ever since. I don’t know how many of their shows I’ve attended (15? 20? 25?), but I’ve enjoyed every one. Thursday night was a little bit special, though.

Who won the quiz? Did anyone beat Smash? Did he donate his prize to charity?

Things I’d like to be able to do:
Master the bezier tool.
Get a proper double-stroke roll happening.
Get a good kick drum/snare sound.
Make art that’s not me just trying to be weird.
Write something without shitting bricks beforehand.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

All Milk, No Duds
The joint subTerrain/Prism launch last night was low key but successful. The venue, Milk, was a good choice. I like how they executed the milk motif in the bar—bas-relief milk bottles on the wall, milk-bottle lights dangling from the ceiling, milk crates piled in the corner, posters of milk bubbles in extreme closeup on the wall. That nasty, mucus-forming beverage was everywhere.

The taps behind the bar dispensed beer, however. Whew.

I noticed that even gay bars aren’t immune from the modern-day plague of TVs beaming down from every corner. Luckily there wasn’t much on last night. Hmm, should I direct my attention towards the poet on stage or to the episode of North of 60 I closed captioned eight years ago?

The bartender looked like Steve Buscemi and I saw me one of them drag queens.

Four people read their stuff. One woman read a lengthy poem from the latest Prism that connected the Voyager I and II missions with the mysterious octopus (which, I learned, can squeeze through any hole bigger than its eye). Funny, because just a couple weeks ago I took a refresher course on the Voyagers for my Best of 2001 CD packaging.

The belter went on third, and was the class of the field as always. She’s such a good reader—she gets into it and acts it out, but not to an annoying “performance poet” extent. The combination of those high-school drama classes and storytime with the stinker have turned her into a rock-solid live performer. I’m glad I’m in another line of work so that I don’t have to share a bill with her.

Bam Balam!
This fine cover tune [mp3] (courtesy of StonerRock.com) got our corner of the building rocking pretty hard this morning. The perfect soundtrack to black coffee and oatmeal. I needed that.

J: "That Stoner Rock lady's totally your girlfriend."
R: "Shut up, she is not!"

Saturday, November 30, 2002

The belter and I walked and walked and walked today. We walked west on Broadway to London Drugs. We walked to the bank. We walked to Toys R BOW MAC Us, where I saw the fancified modern Big Wheel of my dreams. We also checked out some slot car sets, but none of them were as good as the Aurora AFX "Watkins Glen" track I had when I was 12.

The Barbie aisle featured some kind of sunbathing Barbie with her bikini painted directly on her chest like a Mardi Gras reveller. Aside from all the sartorial harlotry ("Barbie is a virgin, just like Britney Spears," sez the belter), the Barbie train and Barbie plane were pretty cool. On the box for the latter, Barbie's in the cockpit while "flight attendant" Ken doles out the roasted almonds and diet Coke. Heh.

We ended up in Kits, where the belter raided the thrift store and bought more clothes with $25 than I'd thought possible. I had hopes of scoring a sweater, but everything on the racks was misshapen or hideous or had an embroidered golfer prominently displayed on the front. The wardrobe department of The Cosby Show had more tasteful sweaters than this place.

The belter gets so much joy out of thrifting that I want to share some of it with her. I want to score something really nice for 5 bucks, too, but it's hard because I haven't developed an eye for thrifting yet. Also, to generalize a bit, it's more difficult as a guy to find decent clothing in a thrift store. A lot of women rotate their wardrobes as styles shift and as their bodies change over the years. That skirt doesn't fit anymore—off it goes to the thrift store.

I guess men don't do that as much. They just find clothes they like and wear them till till they're worn out. The clothes I saw on Saturday had been dumped in the thrift store because someone had decided they were not suitable to be worn in public. These clothes had never been worn with pride. They were birthday presents from colour-blind aunties.

Thursday, November 28, 2002

I spend every day at work writing about the virtues of properly grounding your equipment, then I get a shock off the doorknob when I leave in the evening. Never fails.

The roads that ring Burnaby Mountain are nice. I like their curves and the way they’re cut into the hillsides. On my way home, I walk to a bus stop near a downhill S-bend. There’s a grass bank on the outside of the curve with one of those homemade roadside memorials atop it. It’s a very humble memorial—just a couple tattered fabric violets and a small wooden plaque that reads “OMAR 1982–2000.”

I don’t know who Omar was. He might have been a kid with a fast car; he might have been an old alsatian that crossed the road at the wrong moment. I only know that a life ended on that corner.

I think Omar was a person because of the speed bumps at the entrance and exit of the S-bend. Maybe a SFU roadworks crew put them there in response to the accident a couple years ago. They wouldn't do that if only a dog was killed.

The speed bumps are broad and shallow, though, and the cars barely slow down.

NP: Opeth Deliverance (godly)

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Because I’m a big nerd, I’ve been making “best of the year” compilations for around 10 years now. I’m not sure if it’s a reflection of how busy my life’s gotten over the past few years, but I seem to complete the comps later and later every year. Maybe I’m becoming blasé about the whole process. No, wash your mouth out, Hughes. I become tumescent at the mere thought of the ritual—the piles of CDs, auditioning tracks, choosing the running order. I’m such a High Fidelity-type cliché I should be shot. I hate people like me.

I’ve just finished the 2001 compilation, and thanks to the eMac, it’s on CD for the first time. I know cassette fundamentalists like Shockk will be dismayed, but we’ve all got to move forward, you know.

My philosophy with these things is to capture a representative cross-section of the music I acquired over the year—as much music as will fit on my chosen medium. This year I’ve got 70 minutes worth of stuff.

I have a few rules:
1) Everything must come from an album released that year. For proof, the year must be printed somewhere on the CD.
2) Only new material qualifies—no greatest hits or live tracks (unless the album is one of those rare, precious entities—the live album with new material!)
3) All formats are fair game. Tracks can come from vinyl, CD, tape, anything. It pains me to report that I could only work with CDs this year, however.
4) I prefer short songs so I can fit as many artists on the compilation as I can. Considering my tastes tend towards the epic, this can be difficult. However much it pains me, I can’t include any 25-minute songs.

I actually listen to these yearly compilations on a regular basis. I might drive around for a weekend with, say, 1993’s tape in the deck. I especially like it when I can’t recognize a certain song for a minute or two—usually something by a forgotten entity like Rodan, Bailter Space or Truman’s Water. I have too many records.

So, here’s a rundown of 2001.
Solefald: “Hate Yourself” I like to start with a signature tune for the given year. This punk-riffed five minutes of insanity gave me more musical thrills than anything else in 2001. Nothing like some Norwegian philosophy student hollering “Hate yourself like Kate Moss!” for a fun time under the headphones.
Amorphis: “Forever More” After what I thought was a duff release in ’99, the Finns returned with Am Universam, a totally enjoyable, warm sort of record, with wah-wah pedals, groaning Hammond, and a bit of sax. And it’s metal.
Air: “The Vagabond” Beck steps in to save Air from their achilles’ heel—their vocales robotique. Never been a Beck fan, but he does good here.
Neurosis: “Crawl Back In” Didn’t like this album as much as Times of Grace, but it’s Neurosis…it’s quality. You know they shit blood putting this thing out, so respect is due.
Monster Magnet: “Heads Explode” The comedy portion of the 2001 compilation. I think Dave Wyndorf is using his super powers for evil rather than good. Listen to that ridiculously computer-enhanced production. It’s clear that Monster Magnet are now at home in both the boardroom and the dope room. Hilarity ensues.
Djam Karet: “No Man’s Land” These guys make a kind of inoffensive instrumental progrock, suitable for background music at the planetarium before Laser Floyd. Their aptitude for creating interesting guitar textures is very impressive, though.
Sigh: “Ecstatic Transformation” Wherein these strange Japs try their hand at boogie rock and end up sounding like Cathedral on Prozac. As usual, they attempt to derail the song with a Moody Blues-style interlude, but only make it even more wonderful.
Guided By Voices: “Skills Like This” I could have chosen any one of half a dozen songs off Isolation Drills. I went with this one, which recalls early Who, it rocks that hard.
Opeth: “Harvest” I always end up putting the ballad from an Opeth album on the compilation. Two reasons: the ballad is usually the shortest song on the album (see above), and the ballad is usually a damn fine tune. “Harvest” is their best yet. Is that a nod to Maiden’s “Prodigal Son” in the run up to the first verse?
Bjork: “It’s Not Up To You” As with GBV, I could have chosen any number of songs from Vespertine. The most beautiful, soothing album ever.
Katatonia: “Sweet Nurse” This band really does it for me. Katatonia and Amorphis are creating vital, accessible rock music entirely below mainstream radar, and I find it fascinating. This song, about a dying patient’s final plea, is typical of these suicidal Swedes.
Marillion: “Separated Out” This band and I go way back. We’ve had a torrid, on-and-off sort of affair. I gave in and bought their new one last year. There’s a couple widdly-widdly keyboard breaks in this song that made me smile, and some Tod Browning samples for added interest.
My Dying Bride: “Black Heart Romance” MDB do what they do year after year, and they do doom. I’m not sure if I’m going to be on board for much longer if they don’t start building on their sound again (they’ve regressed since 1998’s 34.788% Complete), but I can always use a good dooming.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: “Sweetheart Come” Just like 2001 itself, this record couldn’t have been any better. I fell in love with it, and I fell in love to it.

I’ve burned a few copies, so if you’d like one (and live in Vancouver or Sherwood Park, Alberta), drop me a line.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

I haven't had much time to update lately. My writing time on Sunday got eaten up by my STC newsletter column. I took advantage of the "ass on chair" time to listen to the new Opeth album properly. Deliverance sounds like a worthy successor to the mighty Blackwater Park, but I'm sure its true nature will emerge after a few more airings. Opeth are always tweaking their sound ever so slightly, never straying from the "progressive death" style they found on their debut. They haven't made that great leap sideways that many Eurometal bands make after their fourth or fifth albums. I'm hoping that Damnation, the mellow album due in March, will be that departure point.

NP: SY—Experimental Jet Set etc.

Friday, November 22, 2002

Holy crap. I now have my very own Telus horror story to tell my grandchildren. I spent 2 1/2 hours on the phone last night trying to set things right. And they're still not right! My email now works fine, but it looks like the belter (whose email account was deleted without our knowledge by some knob in customer service) is incommunicado for another "24 to 48 hours." Jeezus.

See, JR takes some time off work and the whole place goes to hell.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

I went to Metafilter and all I got was this lousy blog entry
Top 100 albums of the '80s, courtesy of pitchforkmedia. The list is heavy on critically acceptables like The Mekons and Mission of Burma, and bereft of any Maiden or Mercyful Fate. Not even Master of Puppets, usually the token hipster acknowledgement of metal's existence, makes it on there.

Numbers 7–4 are a rich vein of fine music, though.

Weird timing on pichfork's part. Didn't we see a lot of these lists around, oh, 1990?

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Saturday was sure a long day. The belter and I worked at a polling station in Kerrisdale for the civic election. We signed people in, gave them ballots and some instructions, and sent them to the polling booth. The voters in this neighbourhood were, for the most part, elderly. During my 12-hour shift I think I saw every type of assistive device available—walkers, crutches, wheelchairs, hearing aids, wrist braces.

Nobody whizzed up to our table in one of those four-wheel scooters, though. I'm not a big fan of those things, those supercharged golf-cart/bumper-car hybrids. Not only are they a menace 2 sidewalk safety, they also give me the impression that their drivers are simply too lazy to get up and walk. The scooter pilots don't seem that old—maybe 50, 55. What went wrong? Did they just give up?

But whatever. Nobody got flattened by a throttle-happy diabetic. There were hazards, though. My registration book got drooled on twice. Some people walked away in the middle of my how-to-vote spiel, which I made an effort to keep brief. These were inevitably the same people who'd walk back to our table with ballots they'd spoiled because they didn't listen to us. The great majority of the people, especially those who got up bright and early to vote within the first couple hours, were as pleasant as could be.

We had a good crew working alongside us, fetching us tea and coffee and pizza throughout the day. Considering we had only 40 spoiled ballots at the end (out of over 1100 ballots), I think we did an excellent job. With Acmac presiding over the whole operation, how could things go wrong?
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Get well soon, JR!

Friday, November 15, 2002

Well, the belter's gone and done it again. Remember her new story that I mentioned a few weeks ago? (I can't find the exact entry because I don't think it's archived yet. Blogger is...quirky.) She's only won The Vancouver Courier fiction contest with it. My girlfriend's a genius. Yay for Jenni and the words that come out of her amazing brain.

We're working at a polling station for the civic election tomorrow. It's way out of our neighbourhood—Kerrisdale, in fact. We'll be informing the jewelry rattlers about proper voting procedures, crossing names off lists, etc. I had a chat with Libby Davies on Wednesday, and she reassured me that we'd be able to vote there after I'd reassured her that we'd be voting for the correct candidates. I'd better bring a list with me, 'cause I'm so bloody well informed.

NP: Anathema—Alternative 4

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Who gets on the 99B last night but Carl Newman. I thought, "Okay, fair play to him. There's room on this enormous public transit vehicle for both of us. He may write catchy songs that attract international attention but he's still got to get down Broadway same as me." The bus pulled out into traffic, and I resumed reading my book.

Not five minutes later I'm startled to hear someone bashing away on a guitar down the aisle and disturbing the people. It's Newman! He's only taken out his guitar and begun penning another hit tune on his way home. I can't return to my book. He's ruined my concentration. I shouted, "Oi! Newman! No! You cannot use this bus as a venue for composing your unique brand of hook-laden three-minute pop songs! You may garner accolades from The Village Voice, but I will not allow you to disturb my peaceful evening commute. There are people trying to read John Grisham novels around you. At the next stop, will you kindly push the bar to open the rear doors and hop it!"

Last time I ever ride a bus with Newman on it. Tosser!

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

The belter and I went to the Blinding Light! on Sunday night to see Werner Herzog's Fata Morgana with live music by the Eye of Newt Collective. I've wanted to check out one of these EoN shows for a long time. Live music and a film by my favourite German freak was too tempting a combination to ignore.

EoN (on that night) were four musicians—clarinet, double bass, viola, and muted trumpet. All of them were equipped with various rattles, scrap metal, and other noisemakers to add some chaos to the performance. They arranged themselves in two pairs on either side of the screen. I wondered how they would communicate in the dark, but there was enough light to see what was going on.

Fata Morgana was about the desert, if it was about anything. Herzog always seems to make films in and about harsh environments. I'm sure he and his crew lived like animals through the whole process, and that he loved every minute of it. The film had no story, and consisted mainly of long panning or tracking shots of sand. The sand was doing stuff, mind you—swallowing up buildings, piling in drifts around abandoned cars and downed planes. Sometimes people entered the frame, walking through their strange desert villages (did George Lucas pattern Tatooine after these places?), or standing still, bewildered and at a safe distance from the camera.

Of course, every desert has its share of dead things—in this case, many many bloated and desiccated animal carcasses, which Herzog's camera lingered on at great length. "Look! Dead things in the cruel desert!" It was like "Germany's Most Disturbing Home Videos" on Sprockets—both gorgeous and obscene.

Eye of Newt were quite good. I couldn't tell how much of their performance had been worked out beforehand, but it was clear that they were familiar with the pace and content of the movie. There were times I would have preferred to hear the film's original soundtrack, especially in "The Golden Age," the title of the last third of the movie (the first and second parts were "Creation" and "Paradise"), which had the most people in it, including a guy who had been studying desert lizards for 16 years (his dialogue was subtitled), and the world's strangest band, a piano-and-drums duo that I can attempt to describe here.

The band were set up in a small alcove indoors. No context for their setting was provided, so we don't know where in the desert this building might have been located. A stout older woman with a grim expression played an upright piano. The drummer was a younger guy in a buttoned-up shirt and scarf ensemble, topped off with silver aviator's goggles. He leaned over sometimes and sang into a microphone. His drumming style was spectacular for its lack of movement. His entire body was still except for his right arm, which pivoted horizontally between the ride cymbal and snare drum, touching each ever so lightly. He looked animatronic. His bass drum featured the word "Rojo." Perhaps that was their name.

Why were they in the movie? I have no idea, except to provide the sideshow/freakshow element that I've seen before in Herzog movies, like the dancing chicken in Stroszek, the movie that Ian Curtis supposedly watched before he committed suicide (as seen in 24 Hour Party People).

Though Eye of Newt provided some amusing music during these scenes and the audience (a decent-sized house for a Sunday night) had a chuckle, I wonder what this Grandma/Sky Pilot band actually sounded like.

The movie left them behind after a while and returned to the desert. A distant car appeared in a mirage, looking like it was driving across water. It came towards us out of the mirage, back on solid ground, then the movie ended.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

I floated around all weekend inside a bubble of immense relief. On Friday, Diana and I did our presentation at the STC conference. I wasn't expecting much of a turnout, so I got a bit wobbly when around 30 people showed up. My nerves didn't get any calmer after Jerome, the man who instigated all this back in March, saw us rearranging our Powerpoint slides at the last minute and had a good chuckle. We plowed through our spiel, blinded our audience with rhetoric, and got a decent response at the end. Jerome shook my hand and told me I did a good job.

After the conference I dropped off our laptop at the college AV desk and met the belter for dinner at the Pennyfarthing. I hadn't eaten a decent meal in 48 hours. It was ridiculously good. I could have ordered the Family Pack (9 pieces!) and polished it off with no problem.

Next up was Bruno and Mai's party. We played foosball, looked at slides, drank, talked...I doubt even Tom Fun could have extracted more fun from the event than I did.

I spent all Saturday afternoon back at the conference. Despite the hangover, I managed to retain some info from the three sessions I attended. I chatted with some PF first-years, the omnipresent and sterling John Vigna, my boss Elizabeth, and a few others. The conference seemed to go really well. Especially fine was the tote bag full of random stuff that all registrants received. It was a tasteful black IKEA thing (code name "SET"), filled with bits of useless paper for the most part, though there was a copy of Coupland's City of Glass in there...a well-intentioned memento for all the out-of-towners there.

Monday, November 11, 2002

When I went to play my 50-cent Quo album tonight, a receipt fell out of the sleeve. "A-ha," I thought. "A valuable artifact from the original Quo fan!"

Here's the rundown:
18 Nov 74
$17.22 subtotal
$00.86 TAX
$18.08 total

On the back of the receipt, the Quo fan wrote some further details in red ink:
Band on the Run
ODDS + Sods

I can't identify the store or the city where the Quo fan purchased this awesome cross-section of '70s rock. Wherever he or she might be, I salute the Quo fan. He/she must have rocked out in a big way once the shrink wrap got torn off that lot, 28 years ago, just as I rocked out tonight. I wonder if Rampant ended up in the basement of the Sally Ann too?

Thursday, November 07, 2002

Keep Them Mowing Blades Sharp
Hooray! The prog revival/revolution has sprung from the bosom of the LA Times. The gang's all here: Porcupine Tree, the Beard and (holy crap) Maudlin of the Well.

You must see the movie of the angel shark on the Maudlin site. Gulp!

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

This is pop (yeah, yeah)
I recently found an old videotape with excerpts from a Britpop special on it. The show (Britpop Now! was the title, I think) was hosted by Damon out of Blur, and featured a bunch of bands playing their one good song live in the studio. I remember the tone of Damon's 'tween-song patter was all Cool Britannia, "our pop's better than your pop" kinda stuff.

He was right, I suppose. But what was the competition at the time? Green Day and Silverchair?

PJ Harvey was on the show, belting out "Meet Ze Monsta" and looking alarmingly skeletal. I remember Elastica were on it, but I missed recording their bit. The Manics and Supergrass got lost too. For some reason I kept songs by Echobelly and Menswe@r on the tape. Whatever happened to them? Were they banished from the British Isles for being irredeemably chirpy and poptastic?

For that matter, what happened to the Primitives, the Darling Buds, and all those other NME cover stars from years gone by? No one can bang out an immortal pop single and then disappear off the face of the earth like those Brits.

I like a lot of that stuff, but the "here today, gone tomorrow" aspect of it doesn't fit with my musical worldview. Forcing my ethos on that kind of disposable pop music (i.e. trying to convince myself and anyone who'll listen that no good music is disposable, even if popular taste consigns it to the cultural scrapheap) seems odd when I consider how the rest of the world sees it.

Ultimately I don't care. It works for me. And if that means I deserve a good kicking for thinking that Bandwagonesque and The Eight-Legged Groove Machine are still pretty cool, then so be it.

Friday, November 01, 2002

Yesterday while waiting for the bus up to SFU, I was amused to see a woman all made up and dressed like Tammy Bakker. I saw the same woman again this morning and realized, whoops, that wasn't a halloween costume.

The trick-or-treaters last night were uniformly lame. We had a total of five kids, and none of them had a decent costume. Sorry, putting on your ski jacket and a hood and claiming you're Osama Bin Laden's hired assassin just isn't on. Not only is it not interesting or clever, it also leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The last couple tykes were sorta cute, but they were just wearing their pyjamas or something. Eh? Maybe the kids with the good costumes didn't bother trudging up our dark, isolated street. Our block only has houses on the south side, so it's not a very productive trick-or-treating area.

I was happy to have the belter with me. Answering the front door is not my favourite task in the world. I'm not as paranoid as Ma and Pa Sox are, though. For the past few years, they've been working on the honour system. They simply put the bowl of candy outside, then lock and bar the front door for the night.

That's where we went after giving up on the trick-or-treaters. It was a good visit. We hung out by the freezer, listened to Candlemass and Fates Warning, went outside for a while to frolic with sparklers and blow stuff up, and topped it all off with tastings of the fabled Corsendonk. I sure needed that, considering my long, academically imposed sabbatical from the Sox house.

Except for some flecks of green silly string still stuck to my sweater this morning, no harm done.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Sabbath, Sabbath Everywhere
After The Osbournes last night (highlighted by the spectacular boaking, as they say in Alan Warner novels, of Jack's bulldog) we saw some snippets of a show about Ozzy fanatics on MuchMoreMusic. The fans were a sad and deluded bunch. "I wanna thank Ozzy for inspiring me to become a tattoo artist." "I think if I got to hang out with Ozzy, we'd become best friends." "Ozzy's never ever let me down." And so on. The best bits of the show were the live clips of Ozzy with the reunited Sabbath. The footage was regrettably Ozzy-centric, though. I could see Geezer back there directing traffic, and I caught a glimpse of Bill Ward's bass drums once or twice, but otherwise it was all Ozzy all the time, interspersed with shots of ham-headed bully rockers down "in the pit."

That was okay, because I got a good dose of Sabbath on the weekend—gluesticking mauve polka dots to our bedroom wall to the strains of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. It was a testicle-retention gambit.

Those mid-period Sabbath albums used to daunt me as a kid. I didn't know anyone who was into that stuff. Acmac had Paranoid, which I borrowed and taped some choice cuts from. "Iron Man" and the title track—yes. "Rat Salad," hoo-boy! "Hand of Doom"? Nah. My infrequent friend Glenn had Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, but I never got to listen to it, and Glenn was well on his way to becoming a dirtbag anyhow. It just bolstered my suspicion that getting too deeply into Sabbath would cause one to plunge into waywardness and become Addicted to Drugs.

It's dangerous fucking music, that Volume 4/SBS/Sabotage trilogy. The process of understanding its genius would have taken too much of a toll on my teenage self. At 15 I was one short, sharp shock away from being put on life support (such was my lack of wherewithal and worldliness), so I think if I'd clicked with, say, "A National Acrobat" or "Megalomania" my sense of self-preservation would have stopped me from ever leaving my room again.

I can't say for sure, though. I could hack the likes of Close to the Edge, Brain Salad Surgery, and other musics clearly composed off-planet. The difference between that music and Sabbath, besides the fact that it's bleedin' poncy bollocks, lies in what Prof. Bill Martin identifies as prog rock's optimistic, utopian nature. That was me to a T back then. Sabbath is anything but utopian, and I realize now that that's what disturbed me about their music. Ozzy was wearing a "Kill Hippies" shirt last night, so the Sabbath ethos is alive and well!

I'm glad I was more or less a fully formed adult when I entered the church of Sabbath, which, incidentally, is located in the vicinity of Gilley and Patrick in South Burnaby. There I found guidance and solace as I peered into the Iommi-riffed abyss. I soon took sticks in hand and worked up to performing a credible version of "Cornucopia" with my benevolent mentors. Acting like Black Sabbath, it turns out, is lots of fun.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

I'm gagging to do a decent entry, but this will have to suffice. I got a start on my "music I'm too scared to play" list, so I'll get that up soon. In the meantime I'd like to invite you all over to admire the giant paper orb ceiling light in our living room and the "voice of fire jr." tapestry above the chesterfield, and the polka-dotted wall in our bedroom. It was like frickin' Changing Rooms/Trading Spaces around here last weekend.

Did anyone see Henry Rollins co-hosting that Full Metal Challenge show a few weeks back? Man, every time I have a bad self-esteem moment, I think about that and start to feel much better.

Saturday, October 26, 2002

Visual evidence of my short-lived career as a bluesman, courtesy of badbatz.xkeken.com. It was all a blur.
The Blues Ain’t Nothing But a Botheration On My Mind
Now that I’ve played my final show with Blueshammer, it’s time to move on to something else. I would have stayed with them, but if I’m going to play in a blues cover band, I want to play material that’s way sicker than what we had been playing. After all, what can you do to a Colin James tune except emulate its shiny Caucasian faux-blues façade, working to produce a facsimile of a facsimile of a facsimile until there’s no detail, no discernable craft, no beauty left.

I remember explaining Blueshammer to Diana Wegner, the scarily intelligent Print Futures instructor I’m working with on a presentation for the STC conference. She asked me what kind of blues we played.

“I guess it’s mainstream blues, like Colin James and Stevie Ray Vaughn and stuff.”

“Oh,” she said. “I like the blues, but I don’t like it with too much, um, ‘white man’ in it.”

I had to agree with her. My concept of “real” blues isn’t a very well informed one. I keep coming back to Deep Blues, a documentary I saw on Bravo! a few years ago. It featured Eurythmic Dave Stewart and Rolling Stone writer Robert Palmer visiting the Deep South to investigate the current state of the blues. RL Burnside starred in one segment. A couple years later he hit the mainstream with albums on Matador and Epitaph.

Another segment of the film featured Junior Kimbrough and his band playing in some juke joint. They blew me away. They sounded truly unearthly. The drummer played with sticks—not drumsticks, but sticks he must have pulled off a tree. The top joint of his crash cymbal stand collapsed after his first hit, and he kept whacking the cymbal through the rest of the song anyway. Junior played sitting down, well-weathered and sixtysomething, and sang along with his guitar riffs. He sounded pained and haunted to a degree I can barely imagine, let alone ever express in song. That’s the blues.

But let’s give the white man his due. I recently acquired Red Herring, the latest album from Half Man, a band that expertly straddles the line between blues and heavy rock. They’re Swedish; that’s how white they are. They’re sick, though. They play songs like John-Lee Hooker’s “Sugar Mama”: nine minutes of a three-note progression that not many bands would have the guts to attempt, but Half Man pull it off with soul aplenty. They follow that up with “Departed Souls,” a menacing instrumental with a creeping bass line, tremolo guitar and off-kilter drums that lull the listener for a while before the song ventures into all manner of freakout sections. On their previous album, The Complete Field Guide for Cynics, they had the good taste to cover PJ Harvey (who, for a pasty white woman, definitely has the blues). On Red Herring they cover Frank Zappa’s “Willy the Pimp,” real slow and dirty-like. Occasionally Half Man fall back on too-familiar riff constructions—“Grass Stains” reconfigures Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” riff ever so slightly—but their style is so well-cultivated that I can forgive such small crimes. Half Man is the kind of blues band I want be in.

So I haven’t given up on the blues. As a white boy, though, I recognize my limitations. I know what I like, and I’m happy to enjoy it from the sidelines for now.

Friday, October 25, 2002

Hold Thy Tongue
Mom, Dad, Queen, Country, and Power Trios—I pledge allegiance to them all. I saw a fine example of the latter last night at the Silvertone Tavern.

Removal don’t just play their songs. They also put on a show, which I appreciate. They take being an instrumental trio seriously. This means they have no vocal mikes whatsoever. They’ve got slides (who doesn’t like a slide show?), they’ve got samples to dress up their material and provide segues between tunes. The slides let them communicate the equivalent of “How you all doing tonight?” in text form—hey, closed captioning!—and allow for the display of interesting backdrops. I wonder how we’re supposed to interpret the images. Is this song about crashed cars? Is this song about flowers? Is this song about a little kid holding gun to his head? I don’t think Removal are that literal. Their songs seem to be simply about rocking hard. It’s not like a Neurosis show, where the A/V element prods us into contemplating our animal origins and the basic human need for ritual, scaring the crap out of us in the process.

Removal run a tight ship. I don’t think we got an opportunity to clap until the fourth song. The rest of the set was a mixture of rock fury delectation and “how do they do that?” bafflement. Their drummer appeared to be the busiest of the trio, triggering samples and changing slides, often in mid-song. He smiled through the whole show, so being in Removal is apparently a lot of fun. The last number before the encore was The Winter Group’s “Frankenstein.” They pulled it off well despite the lack of sax and, most sadly, cowbell. They did that song the last time I saw them, so I suppose it’s their signature piece-cum-favourite party trick.

I’ve attended a number of excellent instrumental rock shows over the years, many of which have left me with an appropriate loss for words—Don Caballero, Saul Duck, The Dirty Three, Projekct Four. I think I’ll add Removal to the list.

PS: I forgot to mention the sample that introduced the show—Pat Benatar, a cappella and classic! "We're running with the shadows of the night..." Nice touch.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

I spent tonight trying to write a review of the new Porcupine Tree album. It's wicked, but do you think I can just say that and be done with it? No, I can't. Anyway, I heart the Tree even though I have some reservations about the leadoff single/video. I dread turning on "Loud" sometime and seeing them sandwiched between POD and Disturbed. Argh, major labeldom is a scary thing.

I've also been leafing through Unrestrained! #20. It's hot off the presses and smelling great. I'm bummed that my one measly review didn't make it in. Am I being made to suffer for slagging too much stuff last time out? Have I been blacklisted, as threatened by the Nuclear Blast lady? Nah, my life should be so interesting.

I hereby pledge to write 250 words about every single sound I hear for the next three months and increase my chances of getting my shit into the next U!. "The busker at Commercial Drive station had a real infectious groove going on. His version of 'Greensleeves' was truly face-melting. Watch your step, commuters, or your flesh will be stripped from your bones, and your bones will then be crushed by this awesome display of heaviness." That kinda thing.

Friday, October 18, 2002

An Idea to Entertain
I walked around all day yesterday with my sweater on backwards. That’s the kind of week I’ve had.

I’ve also been unable to distinguish between pasta sauce and salsa, so I’ve eaten a couple of strange lunches along the way.

I got behind the kit again for the Blueshammer charity show at the Bistro last night. I was still very coughy and phlegmy, but I played like the showbiz trooper I am. Our first set was shaky, our second set was more solid, and our third set, true to tradition, was severely cut back. LDB people made up the crowd, and they started filing out around 10:30—gotta go to work in the morning.

Top man Smash did our sound, and Acmac hung out for a while, too. ACM’s become quite the motivational speaker. He’s almost convinced me that putting on a Mule show would be a good idea, and he’s given me a deadline of before Dec. 31. He says I don’t have to sing the stuff, and that drafting people in for the Mule Band would be a snap. I can picture myself playing some drums or strumming a guitar in the background, but I don’t think fronting a band is a viable prospect. Maybe I could stand at a podium and conduct.

One problem with the concept is that everyone who might want to see a Mule show would be on stage with me.

We’d have to do it at the Bistro. ACM suggested Studebaker’s (so that we could play the loud Mule songs), but frankly I’m appalled at the idea. Although…maybe we could open for Dio.

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Sick Day
I got the okay to take the day off, which I totally needed. I had to pull an STC presentation out of my ass because Diana and I were to run through it today in front of some Print Futures students. I got up early, disposed of trapped mouse—my "corridor of death" did the trick overnight—and started going through my data. I was aiming for 15–20 minutes of material, and it came together pretty quickly. Then I had to crank out about 30 Power Point slides... The belter pitched in for some of them, bless her. It was hell, though.

I left for the college about 4, met Diana about 5, made a few edits to the slides, got a quick LCD projector lesson, and piled into 1808. The presentation went quite well. I nearly lost my place a few times, and I would have liked a glass o' water, but I survived. They were a soft crowd, too. We'd better shape up for the STC crowd on the 8th.

On the way home we stopped at McDonald's and I drank the best Coke I've had all year.

While I worked today, I finally got to listen to that Yakuza album that the Energizer floated me during the editing of U! #20 (when's that issue coming out, anyway?). It's actually really cool, if metalcore done in a sweepy Jane's Addiction style with saxophone is your thing. The album ends with a 43-minute Bitches Brew/In a Silent Way-style jam. Nice and floaty. You can hear a bit of it in the flash intro of their Web site.

I missed The Osbournes last night because I was on the phone with Diana plotting rhetorical strategies. Feces.

Monday, October 14, 2002

Skippy Slaughter
We've got mice in our building. They usually visit our place at night while we're watching TV. Little black shapes running across our floor into the kitchen. It's impossible to focus on anything else once we've seen one.

These mice are brazen. They used to have parties on top of Mel and Adam's fridge. They've chewed on dirty laundry. They've eaten Christmas presents we lovingly placed under the tree. They have no manners and can't be rehabilitated, so I'm afraid they have to die.

Jenni and I had great luck last year with mousetraps baited with peanut butter. We crushed quite a few mice within a couple days. I think they got the message. When the mice returned this autumn, we got one right away. We haven't had any luck since.

I loaded up a couple traps last night, and placed them in a "V" formation in a known mouse loitering area. This morning I found that the mice had licked the traps clean of all peanut butter without setting them off. Even the bait that I'd packed under the hook of the trigger was gone. These are some painstaking rodents. They have a surgeon's touch. I salute their deftness of tongue and their bravery.

These mice are clearly too svelte. They're not heavy enough to set off the traps. But that's okay. Time is on my side. I've re-armed the traps and placed them in the same spot as last night. They're going to consume a lot of peanut butter in the coming weeks and bulk up. Then there'll be some killin'.
The Boy In the Plastic Bubble
The belter and I have been sick all weekend. Our pestilent apartment echoes with coughing, horking, sneezing, and nose blowing. Used Kleenex piled up like snowdrifts in every corner. I got the disease for real on Saturday night, and spent the whole of Sunday inside. This morning I'm feeling better, but this thing is still not out of my system.

I was late for The Carl Fatman Show on Saturday because of some over-ambitious errand running. In my zeal to get Everything Done Now, I nearly killed the poor belter, and I think in the process I weakened myself enough to let the disease take hold. I got to the venue around 9, had a helluva time getting in, and eventually buzzed Carl right in the middle of an interview (watch for it when the episode is uploaded). I stayed for a couple hours, had a bite to eat, and watched the show, which featured various friends performing, then being interviewed by the Fatman himself. Bruno and Mai did a song. It does my heart good to see those two giving 'er Sonny and Cher style. Stoke played a brief set of "Bad Tattoo," "Orange Cat," and a new one I don't know the title of--is it "Blunt"? There was to be jamming afterwards, but I had to head back home. My throat was killing me.

MVPs this weekend: Red Zinger, Neo Citran, afternoon naps, Father Ted and Mr. Show, Staticbeats Chill, and baked apples.

Friday, October 11, 2002

Never Trust a Rock Star
“I know rock and roll had to start somewhere, but did it have to be so fecking gay?” said Jenni, listening to the Beatles (live on the BBC) playing some slight variation of “Surfin’ USA.”

Yesterday morning I saw our landlady and her loyal subject scraping gig posters from streetlight poles, a type of neighbourhood beautification that leaves the poles looking patchy and scalped, not nice, shiny, and new. I’d like to apologize to all my Rock friends for her actions. When I returned home last night, a fresh layer of posters had been applied, and everything looked much better.

The Spock’s Beard mailing list has been abuzz all week with (a) theological debates and (b) breakup rumours. Well, both threads came together last night when the band released an official announcement. Lead singer/songwriter Neal Morse is leaving because “God wants me to do something else.” Neal’s been all about the Jeebus for a while now, and I’m guessing the CCM scene will become his new stomping ground. Good luck to him, but I hope he remembers that The Beard saved him from a lifetime of playing jazz synthesizer in Holiday Inn lounges.

The rest of the band are gonna keep being the Beard. Nick the drummer can carry a tune. If my worst fears come to pass, maybe he’ll come up front and be Phil Collins. Blargh.

So I just wanted to send out an Abba/Alan Partridge-style “Thank You For the (Secular) Music” to all concerned. Boy, the Glitzy Capers are going to have a field day with this one.

Rock and roll can still be pretty gay. Especially the bands that I like.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Career Day
On the crawl up Burnaby Mountain this morning, I listened to this kid riff on and on and on about how to get recruited by the right accounting firm. He sure had his shit together—did his research, attended “CA Night,” got his face known by people. I wonder what it’s like to be 21 and have it all figured out? When you’re a budding Patrick Bateman like this kid was, it must feel wonderful.

I was a standee through all this, so I couldn’t pull out my book and try to ignore the young number cruncher. I’m reading another hockey book, a novel from the belter’s shelf. Salvage King, Ya! by Mark Anthony Jarman (Anvil Press—plug, plug) follows an aging hockey player as he bounces between the minors and the majors, from hicksville to the city, between his Intended and a certain Waitress X. It’s so beautifully written that I’ve debated whether I should continue reading it. It’s like listening to a virtuoso guitarist solo for three hours. Sooner or later I want to scream, “Hey, Yngwie, trying playing the damn song!” Jarman never lets up. It’s written in first person, and our narrator has to be the most urbane, erudite, literate hockey chump of all time. Compared to this guy, Ken Dryden has the mental capacity of a fruit fly. The narrator drops references to Keats, TS Eliot, stage directions from The Winter’s Tale; he listens to X, Tom Waits, makes tapes from ancient blues 78s. Everyone knows that hockey players only like Our Lady Peace and The Hip. So my sense of credibility is strained, and not just by lines like “Let the galled jade wince, our withers are unrung,” and “And new lambs from the hills, ravens, her navel like a dark bullet hole, a tongue remembered, a cough held and waiting like fleece in amber cathedrals of winter light.” Crikey. As my dad would say, “Just shoot the puck!”

The writing is damn impressive, though. The book is subtitled “A Herky-Jerky Picaresque,” so perhaps I’m not interpreting the narrator’s voice in the spirit the writer intended.

The book also namechecks Harold Snepsts, which made me smile. It was spelled “Snepts.” Jenni, tell Kaufman that Willingdon Black and I will proofread for beer.
The belter's feeling poorly today. I think after yesterday's creative purge her body decided it was okay to rebel. Anyway, the story she shook out of her head is amazing and beautiful, and if it doesn't do anything out there in the world, then there's something terribly wrong.

After Spank/Blueshammer practice last night, I headed downtown to catch Bad Wizard at the Pic. I was carrying my drumstick bag, so I felt like a loser. I got some cash from the Sev on Seymour, then walked down to the club. Well, whaddya know, the band cancelled. I was half expecting it. I've always had bad luck at the Pic. I tried to see High on Fire there last summer, and they didn't show either. The last time I saw anything there was Michael Gira's Angels of Light, which was definitely worth the effort.

I'm now wondering about the likelihood of the Melt Banana show happening. Place your bets now.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Music found me last weekend, rather than vice versa. We drove around a fair bit and took our chances with CISL 650. Musky Welshman Tom Jones asked his special lady to help herself to his lips and also to his arms. She just had to say the word and they’d be hers. Alllll right. Yeah. The Beatles pointed out the inadequacy of the seven-day week for showing how much they care, bookending their observations with an intro and outro of the purest genius. Between songs, the increasingly senile and surreal Red Robinson plugged the Grease DVD so urgently that I suspect his RRSP was indexed to its sales.

Saturday night saw me slipping into a wine and cake-induced coma while watching Jackie Brown, which has a damn fine soundtrack. I would have liked to have seen the whole movie, but I’d done myself an injury.

Seals & Crofts serenaded us over Sunday breakfast at the White Spot. A summer breeze blew through the bacon on my mind. Or something. Phew, that’s a stretch.

That afternoon the stinker (in town for her semi-annual bath) and I made art to the creepy strains of In the Woods. She outclassed and out-produced me, running down the hall every couple minutes to deliver pieces to her favoured clients.

I’m looking forward to this weekend. Super is sending me emails about some kind of Saturday night gala he and the Fatman are cobbling together. I’m afraid I’m expected to participate. I have no idea where this is to take place. As long as it’s not at the Coppertank Grill I think I’ll be okay.

Monday, October 07, 2002

I had a good old-fashioned Mule Saturday morning last week. After chaining the belter to a chair in front of the computer (an act of Tough Love), I went downtown to buy records. Oh, it was good.

I hit A&B first, in search of the new Spock’s Beard album. They had it in stock, but at $35 I decided to pass. I owe the Beard some hard-earned cash after getting their last album as a promo, but right then and there I decided to go the mail-order route for the new release.

After a poke around Noize!, I took a deep breath and visited Al at Crosstown Music. Every time I go there he ends up cornering me with one of his conspiracy theories, but on this morning he was occupied with other customers. I snuck into the back room and hunted around, finding most of what I came for, and something I wasn’t expecting to find.

The rundown:
Kate Bush: Lionheart
This album rounds out my collection of early Kate. We’ve been batting around the topic of “What’s the deal with Kate Bush?” recently. Can you imagine Kate Bush emerging in today’s music scene? “We signed this kid. 19. She’s real easy on the eyes, but she thinks she’s an artiste with those crazy songs and all that dancing around like a fruitcake. I like the leotard, but it ain’t gonna fly with the kids. Lemme call Avril Lavigne’s people, and we’ll get her sorted out.” The pictures in her early album sleeves—all soft focus and glam—indicate that the record company was working the ruby-lipped chanteuse angle, but nobody laughed patronizingly at Kate Bush for taking her music wherever she wanted to take it. Is such artistic continuity still possible? Are female pop stars still allowed to “mature” unless, like the post-“Y Kant Tori Read” Tori Amos and the Glen Ballard-produced Alanis, they’re marketed from the outset as “serious” artists?

Led Zeppelin: In Through the Out Door
We’re replenishing the Zep catalog now that the belter has moved away from her roomates’ record collection. A singular sort of Led Zeppelin album, but weren’t they all? Side one begins with much rocking, then turns playful, what with Fool in the Rain (complete with samba part) and Hot Dog. Side two is heavier, but still rippled with newfangled turn-of-the-’80s keyboards. That solo on All of My Love is sure moogtastic. Despite the new instruments and the couple “novelty” tunes, it sounds as otherworldly as Zeppelin ever did.

Keith Jarrett: The Koln Concert
A find! Two LPs worth of Keith going way out on a pianistic limb in 1975.

Archer Prewitt: Three
Got this at Scratch after reading a review at Pop Matters. I like this best when it busts out the flutes & string section. Despite its inoffensive nature, it’s growing on me.

I returned home to the belter, who had been her usual amazing self and written a buttload of new stuff, split a box of KD for lunch, and fired up the turntable for the rest of the afternoon.

Friday, October 04, 2002

Perfect Youth
I finally read John Armstrong’s Guilty of Everything this week. Actually, I devoured the book like a late lunch of grilled cheese sandwich and fig newtons. He won me over right away with the statement “All musicians are scum.” Hear, hear. Takes one to know one, and Buck knew a few. What follows his preface is an excellent account of Vancouver’s (and White Rock’s) emergent punk scene. The era that the book chronicles has a personal mystique because it was a time when I was just becoming aware of Vancouver’s music scene. I was too young to enjoy or fully understand it (how significant could The K-Tels be compared to Rush and Queen?), but I knew the names of the key players and the places they frequented.

Places like the Smilin’ Buddha. We all knew about the Smilin’ Buddha, but no one I knew had gone there. Years later, in ’88, when Alick and I were in DEM, we refused an offer to play the Buddha. We turned it down based mainly on the reputation of the fellow who made the offer, but we also, I think, factored in our personal safety and the security of our equipment. Not very punk rock, I know. I never did set foot in the place, which is partly why Armstrong has a book out and I’m messing around with this thing.

The book succeeds because, as we like to say around our house, Armstrong doesn’t let the facts interfere with the truth. He tells some good stories, fleshes out situations and conversations for maximum effect, and only admits to memory lapses when they’re caused by severe intoxication. Convenient, but believable.

But out of the chaos, some interesting (purported) facts emerge: Art Bergman stole the song “Hawaii” from the songwriter in his previous band. Burnaby punk bands were into heavy metal, while the White Rock scene was inspired by 60s garage rock. Armstrong wrote the Modernettes’ signature tune “Barbra” after a friend issued him a challenge, and he mispelled Barbra because he was drunk. Fascinamating, no?

The book is short. The detail hound in me wanted something longer, but as a reader I thought the length was about right. Like a Modernettes song, Guilty of Everything is tight and packs a lot into a short space. It would have made an appropriate but lengthy subchapter for Have Not Been the Same—perhaps a digression in that depressing chapter on Art Bergman.

Guilty of Everything was everything I hoped it would be—a trip back to a time when you could get attacked on the street for having short hair, when CFOX grudgingly broadcast live punk shows from Gary Taylor’s Rock Room, when The Pointed Sticks played my sister’s high school, and when some quiet boys played loud little concerts for their siblings and parents in a basement on Huxley Ave.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

Tailspin Cycle
I bought a little book by Bruce Robinson called Paranoia in the Launderette at Word on the Street on Sunday. Two bucks well spent. When I say “little” book, I’m serious—3 x 4 inches, 45 pages. A booklet. I started it on the bus this morning. I love it when something I read makes me laugh. I hate it when I’m in public and all I can allow myself is a slight smile.

Robinson, he of Withnail & I fame, finds filth and embarrassment funny. So do I, at least to read about. There’s also something funny about people who are both devastatingly articulate and incompetent. This book is narrated by such a chap. When I left him, he was trying to negotiate his local launderette. I can relate. I’ve been to our laundromat probably 10 times, but I’m buggered if I can remember how everything works. Each time I go now, I watch the belter more carefully, trying to remember when the soap goes in, what orifice on the machine we pour it into, what temperature setting to use, how many quarters to put into the dryers, and so on.

Oh, I’ve done my own laundry before. I’m just not used to doing it in a facility where strangers can observe me. And, like Robinson’s protagonist, I know I’ll be scarred for life if I screw up and wreck something. Visions of the Brady kids engulfed in a roomful of suds, with Alice, hapless and zany as ever, plunging in to rescue them. I’d probably just flood a portion of floor, earning a resentful glance from the employee who has to mop it up.

Nah, forget it. I’m full of crap. I think I’d be fine if left to my own devices. As Alan Partridge might say, “I’m handy! I’m handy!”

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Happy Families
Thanks to the kindness of neighbours, we’ve been watching The Osbournes. Last night’s episode was a laugh, with Sharon in fine form. You might say she was “hamming it up” last night (groan). (She heaved a massive chunk of pork—which she described using words I can’t repeat in this family publication—into her unruly neighbours’ yard during this episode.)

The saddest part of the show is poor Ozzy. He’s either catatonic on the couch, mumbling to his kids, or stumbling around looking for the garbage. And of course the show milks the spectacle for all it’s worth, playing zany background music and adding sound effects, like the dubbed-in snoring that accompanied a brief shot of Ozzy taking a nap. Out of the entire family, I think he’s probably least aware of the cameras, and acting the most naturally. He has no idea where he is, basically.

But it’s Sharon’s show. She’s a tough lady, from tough stock. Her father, Don Arden, was perhaps the most notorious showbiz figure in postwar Britain. This massive article chronicles his rise to the top. It’s interesting to note that Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin’s hellraising pitbull of a manager, was an Arden apprentice.

I was also intrigued to read of Arden’s relationship with fifties/sixties rocker Gene Vincent, whom Arden coaxed along and nurtured through career downturns and alcoholism. To a certain extent it mirrors Sharon’s relationship with Ozzy. Whatever you may think about some of Sharon’s decisions (including her shameful treatment of Lee Kerslake and Bob Daisley, erasing their tracks from the reissues of Ozzy’s solo albums), she’s always done her best for her Ozzy. Keeping him on the road might be killing him, but I suspect it’s killing him more slowly than being at home might.

Here’s an example of Don Arden’s fine-tuned management technique: “Prior to a performance in Manchester, [John Hawken of the Nashville Teens] arranged to collect £120 from his manager’s Carnaby Street office, but, upon arrival, he was handed a cheque for £20. Overcome by reckless indignation, Hawken raised his voice in complaint and demanded the full sum in no uncertain terms. Arden was evidently astounded by his impudent outburst, incensed, he leapt from his chair, seized Hawken by the throat and pinned him against the wall. Staring directly into his eyes, Arden screamed: ‘I have the strength of 10 men in these hands’. Feeling the pressure of Arden’s fingers on his neck, young Hawken realised that this was no idle boast. Within seconds, the agitated Arden had dragged the musician towards his office window, two floors above ground level, and exclaimed wickedly: ‘You’re going over, John, you’re going over’. Fortunately, Hawken managed to free himself from his manager’s grip and fled from his office in a distraught state. Suffice to say, Hawken learned the hard way that a manager of Arden’s stature always demands respect.”

More famously, he gave the same treatment to Robert Stigwood after rumours began circulating that Stigwood’s company planned to poach The Small Faces from Arden.

All in all, I’d say that Sharon’s noisy neighbours got off lightly last night. Jack and Kelly’s grandad might have been staying over.
Review: Destruction and Kreator, Sept 26, Studebaker’s Cabaret
I loved Kerrang! magazine in the mid-’80s. I originally started buying this slim British biweekly for their slavish coverage of ascendant progsters Marillion, but soon a newfangled subgenre called “thrash metal” also caught my imagination. Kerrang! mocked and embraced the movement equally—opinions varied from writer to writer. Depending on who had the floor, Venom, Metallica, Slayer were either clowns or geniuses. Because I’ve always been attracted to the musically freakish and extreme, I bought Kill ’Em All and got on board.

By ’86 the cover of Kerrang! would be as likely to feature Hanneman/King as Tipton/Downing. And inside the magazine you’d probably encounter the likes of Destruction and Kreator—German acts who were as extreme as anything out there. Exciting things were happening. Soon-to-be-classic albums were released every couple weeks, major labels were snatching up the best bands (and, by and large, not interfering with their artistic growth), and new bands were reaching new extremes of speed and heaviness. For probably the first time in my rock-following life, I was in on the ground floor of a new genre.

So last week’s Destruction/Kreator double bill (shall we call this The Antonym Tour?) was a pilgrimage back to those klassic and, indeed, korrosive days. Both bands had visited Vancouver before, but the metal landscape has shifted in the years since. As yet more proof that I’m getting old, thrash metal has become “retro”—hence the “retro-thrash” movement that Terrorizer magazine made note of back in December ’96 (which makes me wonder if we’re due for an onslaught of retro-retro thrash). Metal has always paid homage to itself (because no one else would, I suppose), and so newer bands like Inferno and Usurper have aped Destruction, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, and so on. Necropolis Records even released a Thrash Metal Holocaust compilation a couple years ago, filled with up-and-coming bands capturing the “authentic” ’80s thrash vibe.

Thursday’s gig was very much a case of giving the old-schoolers what they wanted. I arrived in time to see the start of Destruction’s set. The trio kicked off with “Curse the Gods.” The sound was a mess (too much bass, no guitar), but it quickly got sorted out. Destruction are a funny looking band. Bassist/vocalist Schmier is quite a large fellow, while guitarist Mike is small and slight, with a huge mop of hair and the same peach-fuzz moustache I sported in grade 8. The pair of them crisscrossed the stage, with Schmier going back and forth between two mikes at either side. But did they look metal? Indeed, they looked metal—studded leather vests and bullet belts all around, except for the shirtless, pasty drummer, who would have been making his own gravy if he’d dressed like his bandmates.

They played material both old and new, and heads were banging everywhere I looked.

But when the mighty Kreator came on, it was clear they were in a class of their own. Even though they had more members than Destruction, they were much tighter, and the twin guitar lineup gave them so much more musical flexibility—harmonies, solo tradeoffs, the works. Although Kerrang!’s Malcolm Dome once described them as “Accept warped by the Chernobyl fallout,” to me their style is a fiendish combination of Slayer and Iron Maiden, with speed and harmony and a touch of progressiveness. I loved it. They played “Riot of Violence,” “People of the Lie,” “Flag of Hate,” and many other songs of Kreator at this concert of heavy metal. I took in the spectacle from the edge of the pit.

I’d like to flesh out this review a bit more, but I’ve got to post this today. It’s been too long between entries. I’ll just say that it was a tremendous show, and it was nice to see so many diehards out at Burnaby’s own thrash metal holocaust. Shows like this don’t come around too often, and when they deliver as convincingly as this one did, it’s all the more satisfying.

Thursday, September 26, 2002

Nuage Fractal
I picked a good day not to pack a lunch—they had beef barley soup in the cafeteria. I burned my mouth, but it was worth it. So hearty…

Anyway, there seems to be a friendly marijuana debate going on at The Robertson Chronicles. I have nothing much to contribute to the discussion except to say sensible Mule things like, you know, all things in moderation, keep it away from children and house pets, don’t operate heavy machinery, have some chips on hand, etc.

Pot is everywhere. It’s even in my home computer. The Apple Corp’s eMac is very weed friendly. The music player it comes with, iTunes, not only plays CDs, “tunes in” internet radio stations, and organizes MP3s, but it also has a button that, when clicked, starts the “Visual Effects.” The part of the interface that lists the track titles or favourite stations goes black, then colours begin swirling. Chains of lightning bolts vibrate in time with the music. Burning Schoolhouses fizz, galaxies coalesce. I, the helpless viewer, become Keir Dullea in the latter half of 2001, whizzing towards my ultimate incarnation as a foetal star-child. Trip out. Sometimes I think I can see words forming. “Smoke up,” they say. “Smoke up and spend the next four hours staring at me.”

Last Sunday afternoon all I wanted to do was write 300 words for the STC and there I was—having ingested nothing stronger than Orange Pekoe—staring into the abyss while My Dying Bride showed me the Light at the End of theWorld. I wrote the column, but at what cost? Who were the evil Apple boffins who came up with this? Why do ordinary consumer products come with accessories expressly designed to freak me out? They should put a warning on the box: “Under certain circumstances, contents may prove existence of god.”

Nevertheless, I’m going to make a playlist called “Laser Voivod” and give it a whirl. I’ll report my findings if I make it back alive.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Sunday Shopping
I missed another record swap at the Croatian Cultural Centre last weekend. I don’t mind, though, because I’m not really in the market for anything, and that recent Quo find has temporarily quelled my lust for the hunt.

It might have been nice to have a look around though. Those events are always hotbeds of amusing anti-social behaviour. Some troubled audiophile is bound to have a fit when they're denied a discount by a dealer or stepped on while rifling through dollar bins on the floor. People are crabby and hungover. Someone inevitably loses it.

And the smells! The near-visible swirls of cardboard-borne mildew and B.O. in the air make the record swap a surpreme test of olfactory and respiratory endurance. After a stifling afternoon looking for Thin Lizzy records you’ll go outside, reinflate your suffering lungs, and feel like you’re ready to climb Everest without a breathing apparatus.

Don’t forget to wash your hands afterwards too. If you’ve done the record swap right, you’ll have “album finger,” a condition marked by repetitive-motion fatigue and a revolting grey-brown glaze on the fingertips of your “flipping” hand. Soaking the affected hand in a mild solution of soap and warm water (Palmolive Liquid?) will relieve the symptoms. Soon you’ll be ready to play those Heep and Hawkwind LPs you sacrificed your epidermal well-being for. And once the music begins, that uneasy, unclean feeling will return. My god, what are you doing with your life?

The record sales are also a chance to catch up with the Pantleg Guy. Everyone knows the Pantleg Guy—shaved head, Army jacket, constant pantleg tugging accompanied by Tourettic cries of “Huh!” He’s always there, a few places ahead of us in the lineup to get inside. As my friend Scum says, you can’t make fun of the Pantleg Guy, because you go everywhere that he goes. It’s true—I’m at Chapters, he’s at Chapters. I’m at the library, he’s at the library going “Huh!” a few stacks away. I salute thee, Pantleg Guy. You are my sketchy lonely guy avatar. There but for the grace of God…

(This entry was inspired by Stuart Derdeyn’s record swap preview blurb in The Province, which featured the following advice/warning: “Come to haggle, and that UFO double live album is MINE!” Not if I find it first, man.)

Monday, September 23, 2002

I had a glimpse into the eyes of the enemy today. Everyone likes a good list, even a smartarsed list that makes fun of “bad” records, but this one simply makes do with cheap shots and smugness. Of course, the sole purpose of something like this is to get people riled up—it’s definitely successful from that standpoint, as you’ll see in the comments following the list. Though it’s not the kind of music writing I admire, I still feel compelled to read it, just as I can’t leave a hangnail alone until it’s loose enough to bite off.

It must be exhausting to expend all that energy worrying about what other people might think about the music you own. It’s not the life for me.

The fine people at Pop Matters published a response that says what needs to be said.

I will admit that I’m sometimes puzzled by my record collection. The process of reassembling it at the apartment has given me a new perspective on it. Like, how did I end up with seven Killdozer records? I admire their championing of the proletariat, sure, but I doubt that even members of the band have that many Killdozer albums in one place. If you want to poke through them when you’re over, I won’t stand in your way. Feel free to put ’em on. “Man vs. Nature” never fails to entertain. I may be puzzled, but I’m not ashamed.

If anyone has an opinion on what the definitive Killdozer release is, please cast your vote.

Saturday, September 21, 2002

Classic Albums #2

The choice of Spiderland, Slint's second album, as one of those "lost classics" has become a total music-nerd cliche. The album deserves the acclaim, however. I got it a couple years after it was released, when its legend had already started to grow. A lot of the records I was buying at the time bore distinct traces of Spiderland's influence, and when I started making my own music, it was hard not to lapse into lame imitation of its stylistic template. It opened up so many possibilities that it was nearly impossible to leave well enough alone.

Even ten years later, it's probably still a risky business to get onstage and do anything Slint-like within earshot of anyone who's ever visited Spiderland. They'd nail you but quick.

There have been so many oh-so-descriptive words spilled in honour of this album that I won't add to the adjectival slag heap here. You can read this instead.

That rock 'n' roll can go from "Maybellene" to Spiderland in the space of a couple generations is an idea that thrills me.

NP: "Cortez the Killer" Slint, live in Chicago, 1989

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Don’t Annoy Us Further!
The Rush Concert, Book II

Early in the concert, Gary “Geddy” Lee joked that they had 6,000 songs to play that night. Well, it wasn’t quite that many, but they must have knocked out a couple dozen. Even though this tour was billed as “an evening with Rush” and the band had about three hours to kill, picking the set list still must have been a chore.

The Rush back catalogue has piled up like sediment over the decades, and they managed to stick a trowel into nearly every layer during the show. They didn’t prise any nuggets from the Caress of Steel LP (despised by the band, but a favourite of Rush curmudgeons like Sox and myself), but gems from nearly every other release were unearthed. I guess the problem is that some layers of the catalogue are richer than others. So while 1980’s Permanent Waves yielded “The Spirit of Radio,” “Freewill,” and “Natural Science”—all strident, “progressive” numbers that the audience received warmly—1990’s Presto yielded only “The Pass,” an earnest-but-lethargic tune that provided the first pee break for dozens of concertgoers.

As a musician I can sympathize with Rush’s plight. It’s always more fun to play newer stuff. But as a fan I’ll admit that I want some nostalgia tweaked, especially in the case of Rush, who saw me through four crucial and formative years of my life. I’ll never disown any of that music because, as my mantra goes, I’m loyal to the things and people I love. And although I’ve got no right to ask for such a thing from an artist, I do want my loyalty reciprocated—I’d like them to go back and play the stuff that gave me a thrill back in the days when my ears were hungry for cosmic bombast (now that I think of it, when haven’t they been?) and my head was reeling with new possibilities. I treasure those songs, so it’d be nice to know they’re still fond of them too.

My problem with present-day Rush music stems from the fact that I’ve grown and they’ve grown, but I don’t think we’ve grown together. I’ve wanted them to abstract their music, to use their instrumental prowess to venture into realms beyond the rock song. Instead they’ve veered off into a comparatively conservative approach to music and songcraft. During their epic heydays, besides the proliferation of hairpin-turn virtuosity and scary narrator voices on nearly every album, there was a sense that they were forcing lyrics and music together into songs, and that’s what gave them character. So what if the words didn’t always rhyme or the occasional line didn’t scan? So what if Geddy just sang along with the riff instead of creating a counter-melody to sing over top? The material wasn’t any less memorable for it.

For the last decade and a half they’ve streamlined their songs, trimming away those endearing rough edges. There’s always 10 to a dozen songs on each new album, all four or five minutes long, always a single for the radio. Verse-chorus-verse. You might say they’re less “progressive” than they were in the late seventies, but I’m not going to touch that issue for now—I’m in deep enough as it is. Maybe Rush aren’t the mad scientist/pot-smoking geniuses I took them for when I was 14. Maybe their music in 1977 sounded as conservative to seasoned 36-year-old music nerds then as their current stuff sounds to me now. All I can say is when I compare tepid offerings like Test for Echo and Roll the Bones, to records like King Crimson’s bracing and raucous The Construkction of Light, I find myself wondering why Lee, Lifeson and Peart haven’t made a similar leap into the great beyond.

But there I go, being an ungrateful sod. My aforementioned loyalty was reciprocated on Sunday night. Absolutely. Bearing in mind Rush’s long career arc, I couldn’t have realistically asked for a better bunch of songs. Like I said, they played “Natural Science,” which surprised me because it’s one of their more outlandish, ungainly songs, and one of their last great epics. It’s probably still in the set because it’s just a fun song to play. It also affords Geddy the opportunity to sing the lines “Each microcosmic planet/A complete society,” which may not be rock ’n’ roll, but I like it.

The set also featured several instrumentals, a much-loved variety of song that Rush can never write enough of, as far as I’m concerned. They trotted out “La Villa Strangiato” (featuring an odd Lifeson rap during the “Monsters!” section that had his partners exchanging bemused glances), “Leave That Thing Alone,” and “YYZ,” which is perhaps their most successful instrumental—exciting yet restrained, concise but very satisfying. People lapped it up, getting as “into it” as one can get at a Rush show.

There was no moshing, of course. You’re fairly safe from most concert-related injuries at a prog show. You might get a cuff in the head from an air drummer flicking out a hand to hit an imaginary splash cymbal, but that’s pretty rare. Or, if you were my friend Malty, you could get bounced by GM Place goons for too much headbanging during “Cygnus X-1.” One second, he was up front, hair flailing around in 11/8 time, the next, he had disappeared. Too bad, because if he’d caught “Working Man,” he would have really gone off.

I guess the staff were concerned for the safety of the child. Somebody in the second or third row saw fit to bring their six-year-old daughter to a Rush concert. Watching this kid perched on an adult guardian’s shoulders during “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” (“Square for battle/Let the fray begin!”) was cause for concern, and no doubt a lifetime of therapy awaits the traumatized tot.

Everyone I’ve spoken to about the concert has been quite moved by it. Whether their judgment is coloured by knowledge of recent Rush history, I don’t know. I’d prefer to think they were just awed by a spectacular rock concert. It’s sure nice to go to one of those now and again, and it was great to hear all those songs. Thanks, Sox.