Friday, June 28, 2002

Two-Lane Blacktop part II—Lindbergh or Earhart?

Strike the last sentence of the previous entry from the record. Priest was not actually on my musical menu that afternoon.

I decided to take the Lougheed Highway (#7) out to Harrison. It looked like the most direct route on the map. As I later found out, it wasn’t the most efficient way there, but I’m glad I took it anyway. The scenery and backcountry ambience made up for its comparative slowness.

I hadn’t intended to travel alone, but Murray’s cancellation forced me to go solo. I wasn’t happy about this. Once I’m east of Gaglardi Way, I start feeling like an untethered spacewalker. I like having someone else to talk to during these times, a companion to help me watch the road. Besides dying at the wheel, getting lost is one of my biggest fears.

Going through the burbs was start-stop-start-stop all the way. I was playing the new Melvins album, Hostile Ambient Takeover. It’s a heavy one; more The Maggot than The Bootlicker, more Stoner Witch than Stag. The tape ran out as I went through Haney. The traffic dissipated and the road opened up. I put on Howls From the Hills by Dead Meadow. Their shambling, rustic BigMuff humfuzz filled the cab. I could picture myself late at night, walking down the backroads just off this highway and hearing the band jamming in a distant cabin.

Mount Baker loomed, twice as big as it appears on a clear day in Burnaby. It’s a fine-looking mountain, such a proper volcano, so gracefully sloped and snowy. I really want it to spew magma at some point during my lifetime. Just a little eruption—nobody has to get hurt.

The #7 is mostly two lanes, 80 km/h all the way out. I’d rather have been a passenger, but I tried to take in as many of the sights as I could while still keeping the car on the road. Other drivers evidently weren’t so intent on scenic pleasures. Tom Slick in his Benz was picking his way through our convoy one car at a time. He made it to the front of the queue with no mishaps and quickly disappeared in the curves ahead. Oh, well, it was his loss. Maybe he drives this road every week.

Stuff I saw: fruit stands gearing up for the season. Kids selling roses by the side of the highway. On the lake to my left, a water-skier did a faceplant, perishing in an explosion of spray. I passed a nudist campground, wondering if I should stop by for a quick game of volleyball. Signs pointed me to stock car circuits and drag boat racing. So much weekend exotica out here in smalltown B.C.

The tape deck’s auto reverse kicked in, and Wino and his Spirit Caravan arrived for my trip into Harrison. I accidentally drove past the motel where I was supposed to hook up with Roger, and ended up driving right into Harrison itself. When I reached the lake, I knew I had come too far. It was an adolescent frenzy—hordes of today’s beef-hormone-enhanced SuperTeens milling about in not too much clothing. I escaped to the tourist info booth, where I got directions back to the Crossroads Motel.

Roger met me outside and directed me into the motel bar, where his son Adam, daughter Cathy and her boyfriend Jason were shooting pool. The air conditioning was in full effect. I opened my Coke, but all that time in the truck had made it warmer than the current room temperature. No refreshment properties whatsoever. Yuck. I drank the impotent beverage anyway and waited for the others to arrive.

A power ballad by Boston was playing on the radio—“I’m gonna take you by surprise and make you realize, Amanda.” I’d forgotten about that song, and I didn’t particularly need to be reminded of it then.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

Before I get going here, I advise you to read Alick Macaulay’s Blacknblues sometime. You’ll find a growing collection of carefully considered and crafted essays by a man blessed with enough analytical power to add two plus two and come up with 8,000 every time. Genius. He’s making me look real bad.

Two-Lane Blacktop
I’ve done a lot of things in my life as a “musician,” but touring’s not one of them. I’ve never envied those dedicated enough to pile into the Econoline and head out for months of bad food, dodgy clubs, highway breakdowns and no bathing. I've seen the misery of the experience reflected in the faces of musicians at gigs I've attended over the years. Dale Crover, on tour as Nirvana’s substitute drummer, setting up his pedals on a crowded, dusty sidewalk outside the New York Theatre. The For Carnation moping through a set at the Starfish, still managing to summon a kind of lackadaisical glory. Seam gritting their teeth onstage at the Lunatic Fringe, with its ludicrously high drum riser and sword & sorcery murals on the walls. I'm grateful that these bands go out on the road, and even more grateful that they cross the border to play our dingy little town and sell me a t-shirt, but I've read Get In the Van, and that's enough for me.

Last Saturday’s day trip to Harrison was the furthest I’ve travelled to play a gig. Blueshammond guy Roger had arranged for us to provide music at a post-wedding party for a friend’s daughter and her new husband. They had got hitched in Australia earlier in the year, and this was to be their Canadian coming-out do. I embraced the idea of doing this gig when it was originally proposed (because it fit in with our “weddings, parties, anything” mentality, which has seen me playing on boats, illegal party spaces in North Van, and U-Brew establishments), but I grew less and less keen on it as Saturday approached and the reality of the drive set in.

I had a couple hours between getting home from the belter’s and having to load the truck and depart, so I ate some lunch and dubbed a couple tapes for the road. Unfortunately, I forgot my “Big Lebowski”-inspired pledge to make a Creedence tape from the three-LP set that JR gave me for Christmas one year—among my gift-exchanging friends, his presents are unrivalled for their sheer vinyl heft—and selected some newish stuff that I thought would provide some righteous road rock.

I was supposed to have guitarist Murray along for the ride, but he never called, and I gave up on him. I heard from him right as I was leaving. He apologized for not being in touch, and said he would make his way to Harrison by himself in about an hour.

So, with a handful of tapes, a can of Coke, and my drum kit in the back of Clive's Ford Ranger, I hit Huxley Ave. about 1:45 p.m. and headed out to the highway. Cue Point of Entry, side one.

Next time: Rendezvous With Roger.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

I've Had Enough of the Blues...
But the blues ain't had enough of me. Stay tuned for a report on my Blueshammer road trip to Harrison. Probably mid-week.

Friday, June 21, 2002

"The Mule is accustomed to the unordinary"
-Super Robertson

Robert Wyatt. That floaty, amorphous music drifting out of Super Robertson’s stereo last Saturday night sure sounded like a Robert Wyatt album. No, it couldn’t be. But it definitely sounded like Rock Bottom, an album I’d been living with for a few years and shared with no one but the belter—a peculiar, accidental-sounding record that was surely the result of a random combination of time, place and circumstance. I had convinced myself that nothing else in the world could sound like Rock Bottom.

I thought for a moment about asking what this music was. I liked it a lot—almost as much as the feast that Super and Cristina had laid out. But I decided to keep quiet to prevent a potentially awkward social moment. What if I piped up and got some blank stares in reply? I didn’t want to have to explain too much.

Someone else’s conversation tackled the subject. Rumours started circulating. It was Robert Wyatt. Super passed the jewel case around. Shleep. He’d heard some of it on the CBC one night. I said something about Super being my soul mate. Super said something about having been aware of that fact for a while now.

Later in the evening he danced like Ian Curtis for us, and I recalled that we’d discussed forming a Joy Division cover band a long time ago. I want to spend every Saturday night at Super Robertson’s.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

At Metrotown on Saturday I saw a guy with an acoustic guitar busking in the walkway between the mall and the SkyTrain station. Not so extraordinary in itself, but the young troubadour was wearing a Dark Funeral shirt! I never give to buskers (I should, at least when they don't suck), but that guy definitely deserved some coinage.

When I got on the train, I sat across from a walkman-clad bully rocker. He sure looked grouchy…maybe he was unhappy about that Mudvayne shirt he had on! Shit, dude, my mom's gotten me some lame birthday presents, too.

I like Tool, but I’m not mad about them. I don't like them as much as Rudimentary Peni, but there's a certain craft and quality to their work that I have to salute. Their true genius, though, lies in the t-shirt arena. All those tuff guys walking around with the label "Tool" on their chests…too rich.

I bet 7,500 other writers have expressed that exact same thought. I dunno; I haven't read Spin for about seven years.
I was really bummed out by my Hate Yourself entry of a few days ago. It left a bad taste in my mouth—the taste I get whenever I don't trust the validity of what I want to say and end up writing something horribly compromised.

I should have written this: I love "Hate Yourself," but I'm appalled by it as well. I don't like that I like it. The lyrics are ESL-awkward, and their phrasing is sometimes forced. It wallows in negativity and pretentious sentiment. "Hate yourself with a touch of glamour"? Marilyn Manson could have written that. And there's enough empty anger passing itself off as entertainment these days.

But there was a day early last April when I was going crazy from the pressures of school and watching classmates implode around me. All I wanted to do was hold everyone together for just a couple more weeks, but at the same time I wanted to scream, "just relax for fuck's sake, step outside yourself, take a break, get some sleep, have a drink, jerk off, do whatever you need to do to stop annoying everyone else and have them end up hating you for all eternity." I sent an email to a few friends wherein I let off some steam in an un-Rob Hugheslike manner, and the response I got a couple hours later from one friend was so awesomely positive and affirming that I immediately put on "Hate Yourself" and started leaping around the room like the floor was electrified. When it ended I was vibrating with joy. I then sat down and resumed my work.

That's why I love the song. That's why I love how Peter Hammill screams "One more haggard drowned man!" on "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" or "total ANNIHILATION!" (stretching the last word out for about 25 seconds) on "After the Flood." That's why I love "1/4 Dead" by Rudimentary Peni (who might be my favourite band ever if I didn't already have 324 Favourite Bands Ever), whose libretto primarily consists of "3/4 of the world is starving/The rest are deeeaaad!" There is enough catharsis in the blood-death-and-drug-saturated expanse of my music collection to last me the rest of my days. I can survive anything.

Monday, June 17, 2002

Went shopping for shoes of the sports/casual variety, and I made a major score. Walked out of Foot Locker (where they still apparently only hire referees) with two pairs of leisure footwear.

My shoe of choice this time around was the Adidas Stan Smith. Certain members of my readership may be smiling right now. Indeed, when I showed off my purchase to my family before Sunday dinner, a huge collective groan, tinged with fond exasperation, went up. But hey, so what if those were the only shoes I wore for the better part of a decade? The selection out there these days is pretty limited. My Etnies were shot, and the belter had semi-seriously forbidden me to replace them with brand-new duplicates. She’s a woman of firm convictions when it comes to fashion. These convictions sometimes seem odd to me, but then again, I’m just a boy. I looked at other skater-type shoes, but they weren’t doing it for me. And your regular track/running shoes are looking so gay these days. They’re veinous and grotesque, embedded with air bladders and springs—they’re like penile implants. And you have to wear them on your feet, look down, and contemplate these cruel badges of impotence all day. No thanks.

I also bought a pair of Converse All-Stars. Haven’t had a pair of those in yonks either. I’m wearing my Stan Smiths right now, though, because they need to be broken in immediately. Gotta get that toe-hinge happening, and dull their alarming whiteness with some scuffing.

The referee who helped me yesterday seemed pretty stoned. He was having a helluva time lacing my freshly unboxed shoes, and he couldn’t work the price scanner. His officiating was very poor, all told. If I wasn’t so happy with my purchase I’d report him to the Shopping Mall Referees’ Association or something.

Oh, nothing about music in this entry. I bought a bunch of CDs on Sunday, and I'll get to those sometime soon.

Saturday, June 15, 2002

With the belter off writing mock exams today and tomorrow, sacrificing her weekend for the greater good of the EAC, I’m left to my own devices. As usual, I’ve got a song stuck in my head. Be afraid.

Two guys from Norway wrote my favourite song of last year. “Hate Yourself” by Solefald is a punk-metal anthem that arrives four tracks into Pills Against the Ageless Ills. It has several movements, working through variations of the opening riff. Lyrics are repeated against the evolving musical backdrop—the same words with different phrasing. “Hate Yourself” is a turbocharged tilt-a-whirl of a song. It’s totally mental. Self-loathing never sounded so good.

Hate yourself and I will make you happy
Pills… is a concept album about two brothers—Cain, a pornographer, and Fuck, a philosopher. There’s a rather flimsy plot involving Cain’s murder of Kurt Cobain and Fuck’s subsequent exile and soul-searching, but it can safely be disregarded. “Hate Yourself” is described thusly: “When Cain confessed to Fuck’s answering machine that he was Kurt Cobain’s murderer, Fuck sent this storm of messages to his brother’s mobile phone.” So there you have it. Probably the first metal song ever written about playing phone tag.

Hate yourself like Kate Moss
I’m not sure if they’ll ever surpass “Coco Chanel, welcome to hell” from Neonism, their previous album, but Pills… definitely has its share of fine couplets. “Out of the seven classic arts/Rhetoric rises to bust the charts.” “My apartment works fine, no need for locations/it’s spacious enough for a camera and some Asians.”

Hate yourself with a touch of glamour
I was reading about Thomas Homer-Dixon (The Ingenuity Gap) in yesterday’s paper, and what he had to say made total sense. I’m quite taken with the “Capitalist Trilemma” he describes. (1—The global economy is producing too many goods and services too many people can’t afford. In other words, the rich/poor gap is widening. 2—Population growth and economic expansion are outstripping the Earth’s ability to sustain us. 3—The problems facing the world are becoming too complex, and solving them in any comprehensive way is beyond our intellectual capacity.) There’s some serious trouble ahead, and we need more people like him to draw attention to the obvious. Not a day passes when I don’t give thanks to the random cosmic/universal forces that I was born when I was and that I live where I do. And I hope I’m outta here before the shit hits the fan.

Hate yourself continents are starving
I was depressed to read that the world’s population has quadrupled in the last century. Nothing can slow down now. You can call attention to the obvious, but when it's too late to change anything, should you even bother?

Hate yourself like I do. No way to improve. No way to do it better. Just suffer suffer suffer!

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Sometimes I think there's a conspiracy to erase heavy metal from the cultural/historical record. In a Globe & Mail article about The Osbournes this morning, Ozzy was described as an "aging goth rocker." Hmm, I guess I had forgotten about his Bark at the Moon demos, where he worked with an embryonic Sisters of Mercy. What about the time he took the stage at a Cure gig and sang "Boys Don't Cry" with Fat Bob? Dead good, that. And remember the uproar when he bit off the heads of all of Balaam and the Angel?

Never mind "Hole In the Sky," "Into the Void," and "Hand of Doom." Really, his heart wasn't in it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Words of wisdom from Professor Bill Martin
"Cyberanarchists are fond of saying that 'information wants to be free.' Systems for downloading music online such as Napster and other forms of what essentially amounts to bootlegging may not yet spell the end of the bourgeoisie, not only because the media corporations will fight desperately to enforce their ownership 'rights,' but also because there is something not yet sufficiently transformational about young people who have the disposable income for their iMacs or whatever (mine is lime) supposedly not having the scratch for the latest Matchbox 20 album."

Monday, June 10, 2002

I’m looking at a ragged pile of 21 CDs that were released last year, with the aim of taking one song from each and compiling a tape. I do this every year. It makes me happy, though it does wake me up to the fact that I don’t give this music the attention it deserves. I feel guilty about it. I worry about getting my money’s worth out of each album. I worry about wringing every bit of appreciation I can from them. I worry about all that agonizing in the studio by people far more talented and brave than myself, only to have schmucks like me listen to their work, like, twice.

I think I did pretty well by them this year, though. Blackwater Park? I had that in rotation during my commutes to Wenco, and I reviewed it for the OP. Massive airtime. No More Shall We Part? Well, that’s the Mayne Island soundtrack. I should play it more at home, but I got all weepy the last time I did. Vespertine? That one’s kind of reserved for special occasions. New Dark Age? Empiricism? Mekano? Prometheus—the Discipline of Fire and Demise? Okay, now I feel guilty. Time to start listening again.

Blueshammer Redeemed?
I only want to play gigs at the Cottage Bistro from now on. I was running late for my engagement with Blueshammer there on Saturday night—whether I was justifiably delayed or displaying some passive-aggressive tardiness, I won’t speculate. I was able to park right outside the door. That was a good sign. I lugged my gear inside, then sat down at the band table. Roger grabbed a pitcher and poured me a pint of Tree IPA. I kicked back to enjoy the hop picnic and watch our opening act do their golden oldies “Wake Up, Little Suzy” thing.

The Bistro stage is tiny. Once my kit is set up, there’s only a couple feet of clearance around it. So we move the mike stands out of the way, Roger sets up station on the floor, Carolyn bops around over by the door, nearly out of my line of sight. Murray stands in front of me, his elbows brushing against my cymbals now and again. It’s intimate, cramped, and fun. We were supposed to start quietly, but I don’t think we succeeded. The amps on either side of me seemed awfully loud. Murray’s combo was spitting out quite the raunch, but his volume knob was at 0.75. I gave it some welly with my splintering Lightning Rods™ and generally tried to make myself audible.

It was hot in there, so after the first set, I took a walk down Main. I stopped outside the Montmartre for a few minutes and watched the onstage action. A couple guys were belting out “Locomotive Breath” to fairly full house. I’ve had fantasies about Blueshammer doing some Tull for ages, but after throwing a couple song titles at them (“Teacher” and “New Day Yesterday”), we decided it was beyond our scope and went back to the Colin James tunes.

I gave the Tullsters a hand and went over to Cinephile to check out their Altman section. I’ve been wanting to see Three Women for ages… I saw it on Bravo when I was between jobs or on holiday or something. Shelley and Sissy shredded my heart like so much bocconcini. The clerk recommended Ghost World to a couple indecisives while I searched the shelves. They didn’t have Three Women, but they did have Paradise Lost 2. I’ll have to come back for that.

The Shockker came in while I was there, so we had a chat. He had seen me walk by from inside the Starry Dynamo, where he was watching a friend play. I’ve made him do enough hard time at Blueshammer gigs in the past, so I hadn’t told him about Saturday’s show. I invited him to swing by later and pick up a DCR CD, which he did.

That’s the kind of night it was—a succession of small, nice events. The crowd at the Bistro thinned out steadily, but I couldn’t take any offense. By 11:30 about half a dozen remained, including the honourable Mr. Black. We pared back our last set and were out of there shortly after midnight.

The belter and I were kept awake the next morning by a garrulous pigeon on the window ledge, amazingly audible through glass and venetian blinds. Flicking the blinds would fix the situation temporarily, but he’d quickly resume his assault on the world’s record for loudest sustained cooing. We gave up when Littlebelt decided she wanted feeding.

Sunday was packed with dangerous levels of tomfoolery. Before I had to go, the belter and I walked around the neighbourhood, drawing on poppies, roses, ball-chasing dogs, cats and shade to regain our equilibrium.

I ate more pancakes this weekend than I have in the last three years.

Friday, June 07, 2002

Just wanted to make note of a couple new additions to the catalogue.

I was well chuffed to take home a pile of the new Dead City Radio release, Dead City Roadway, from Edmonton last weekend. Most of it was recorded during my last visit, in March of '99. It's a concept album, a soundtrack to an imaginary road movie and, whaddya know, it really works as such. I'm liking it more and more with every listen. Tweek went nuts with the e-bow. It snakes through nearly every track. I'm hearing a Goblin vibe on certain songs, too. Maybe we should try a soundtrack to an imaginary zombie movie next time out. Maybe I should record one myself...

Smash, JR, Mr. Black, Robertson, Shockk, step forward and claim your copies.

My first foray into the print medium. It's a tribute to the belter, and none of you get to read it.

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

More travelogue than discography today. I’ve been on the road, man.

Capped off an unsatisfying week with a dire Blueshammer gig in Kits on Friday night. A few friends showed up, but nobody else wanted us there. My spirit was crushed during our first number, watching a table full of people get up and leave. So much for that nice chat they were having. During the break between sets, Jeff, a drunken gel-monkey birthday boy, took to my drum kit for a solo while his shooter-fortified pals cheered. Picturing him the next day, hung over during his morning shift at Future Shop, was scant consolation.

On Saturday, I got on the 7 a.m. flight to Edmonton. I was running on three hours sleep, but things were okay; there would be music, hospitality, fields, and flat, empty roads on the other end. But we sat in the plane for about 2 hours with a disabled anti-lock braking system awaiting an all-clear from WestJet Maintenance HQ in T.O. I hunkered down with Prof. Bill’s book and tuned out the complaints in seats D, E, & F behind me.

Two things about flying that always alarm me:
1) I like accelerating down the runway and the steady, comforting g-pull of takeoff, but there’s always a couple moments as the plane climbs when that pull disappears and I’m light in the seat for a couple moments, long enough for me to imagine the plane stalling and powering full throttle into the ground. I pored over a diagram explaining wind shear in Time magazine many years ago, and I’ve been a bit jumpy ever since.
2) One minute I’m looking down on the city, picking out the belter’s house, Central Park, and other landmarks, then a minute later all I can see are mountaintops. The Lower Mainland’s sprawl is just a sliver of habitability. From the ground the mountains on the North Shore loom all benevolent and noble, but from above, when you’re high enough to see behind that façade, they look incredibly hostile.

Tweek neglected to call ahead, so I’m afraid he was waiting for me at YEG while I had yet to take off in Vancouver. The Tape Creep was there, too, and was the first to spot me at the baggage claim. We hopped in our respective vehicles (Tweek and me/Mazda, Tape Creep/white Malibu) and headed for the outskirts, slowing only once to marvel at the latest breed of badass pickup truck being marketed to the phallically challenged in Klein country.

The Tweek estate is woodsy, lacking the blasted tundra feel of his old place (which I loved, and where I spent a surprising amount of time by myself, blasting Codeine, contemplating the lake from the living room and getting all wistful). The backyard is an acre or so, with narrow trails between whippy branches of hazelnut and chokecherry. There’s also abundant birch trees (speaking of Codeine), frogs, and a creepy abandoned swing set and kids’ playhouse back there. I teased Tweek about AJ and Colin using all that space for teenage bush parties--after all, that’s what he did on Windermere Drive back in the day.

Tweek was on to a good thing with Meadow Vole Studio, so his new jam space has a nearly identical layout. If anything, it’s even more comfy. Knowing we didn’t have much time together, we picked up instruments and rolled tape with due haste. I did a lot of “session work,” playing along with a “click track” to “overdub” drums for some previously recorded tunes. We spent the rest of the weekend hammering out new stuff, by ourselves, or with Tweek’s bro Wes (a steady bloke and a fine musician), who joined us on Sunday. We ended up with a couple tapes full of usable material awaiting lyrics, touchups and general sound fascism.

I’m looking for a way I can work the expression “fussy as a lesbian drummer” into the vernacular. It’s no “peuncy,” but it’s all I have right now.