Friday, August 30, 2002

The entry below contains an untruth. I've seen Bruknow play before in a band I wasn't in. This was back when he was the Dis Doctor in A Posse of One. I believe I only saw the Carpenter's Hall gig. It was a good show. Sox was wearing a dress that concealed a pair of exploding tits. At the end of the set, he got naked (his bare ass exiting stage right), and someone dropped a mike, which earned them a Severe Talking To from the sound guy in the alleyway. The Posse were a magnificent disaster every time out. Was that like 10 years ago? Jesus.

Started writing something earlier this week, but got bogged down.

Wednesday: Blueshammer wants to reconvene, and I'm not sure I want to join them when they do. I learned a lot about stamina and feel playing with them, and I liked being The Drummer (the same way I liked being The Goalkeeper in my pee-wee soccer days), but in the end it came down to playing songs I didn’t like in places I didn’t like to people I definitely didn’t like. My creative self-esteem is very low at the moment. Everyone's doing better than I am. I feel like Pete Best, or John Rutsey. I also suspect that I can't write worth a damn (I’ll get a good belting for that remark, I know). I have no time, I have no space, I have no tools. I know these three things will all come together in short order, but it's been hard the last couple weeks.

I don't want to bail on Blueshammer because I know that part of me will regret it, the same way a part of me regrets leaving Stoke. Even though I hated the scrutiny of the recording studio, even though I can't listen to the CD without wincing at my performance, even though I had no musical goals, even though the thought of a career in music makes me ill, even though playing live fills me with dread (before the gig), embarrassment (during) and regret (afterwards), even though I had no time to devote to them, I still regret that I chose to walk away. When I left Stoke, I knew I'd be susceptible to certain esteem-damaging emotions, so I did my best to steer clear of situations that might generate them. I never went to see the band play for the longest time. When I did, I felt okay about it. I'd never seen Alick and Bruknow playing in a group that I wasn't in. It was kind of liberating just to sit back and watch the show. But now, with the longer they go on and the more they do, I'm getting the feeling that I most feared when I decided I'd have to leave: that they're better off without me.

Today: Whoa-oh-oh-oh. Self pity. I feel better now. There’s a chesterfield in the apartment (thanks to excellent friends Smash, JR, Acmac, and The Closer), there’s an ingot of fig neutrons wrapped in Cut-Rite inside my lunch bag, there’s a Sonic Youth show this weekend, there’s fresh air and promise all around. The melody of a song I started writing six months ago came into my head this morning. It’s not quite there yet, but the fact that I can remember it is an encouraging sign.

After I claimed to have the finest friends in the world yesterday, Smash and I had a brief debate over the ownership of such a claim. He said that he had the finest friends in the world, while I would have to settle for a close second. Because I estimate that we share 90% of the same friends, this is indeed a close-run thing. I’ll vouch for my exclusive 10%, and I’m sure he’ll extol the virtues of his. I’m sure a third-party observer would call it a draw.

In other news: Thanks to a certain jetbot, the belter now has a diary she’s proud to show the world. Look out.

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

I guess this will be the last week that I’ll be taking the 99 all the way out to Lougheed Mall every morning. With the new SkyTrain line going into operation after this weekend, the 99 is only going as far as Broadway Stn., where we’ll have to get off and take the Millennium Line.

I liked the 99 for the novelty of riding a bus that didn’t stop twice on every block. It was speedy and double-jointed, and made a strange hawk-squawk under acceleration. You also had your pick of the seats after the Brentwood stop, so you didn’t have to sit in the accordion part in the middle if you didn’t want to. Damn bumpy in there.

The Express nature of the 99’s route also had a dark side. Nearly every morning, someone found themselves on a bus that was racing into practically another time zone when they were expecting to get off near Sperling, perhaps. They’d walk over and talk to the driver (for the last month our driver has been an imposing woman with a therapeutic brace on her forearm), who would not let them off until the next official stop, which was miles and miles down the highway, just before Lougheed Mall. Sometimes the passenger would sit back down, bewildered and resigned. Sometimes they would get angry and spit “Fuck you!” at the driver when they were finally let off. But in any case, someone’s day would be ruined. It would kind of ruin my day a bit, too. My worst nightmare is being on a bus, looking up from my book, and discovering I’m not where I expected to be. I could sympathize. I’d probably die if I was stuck on a bus that would not let me off, not just because of the time I’d waste getting back to where I wanted to go, but from the embarrassment of all the other passengers watching what was happening to me, the shame of being the dumb guy who didn't know the route.

The drivers I had on the 99 never once stood up at Brentwood and said, “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. This bus is not making another stop until it reaches the outskirts of Thunder Bay. If you want to get off anywhere in this climatic region, you’d best get off and take another bus.” That would have helped a few people, I bet.

Friday, August 23, 2002

Which Wesley?
I was intrigued to read on roadbedonline that the Shockker was scheduled to open for that enormous retarded guy novelty act Wesley Willis. Someone has made corrections though, and it now reads "Wesley Wet." Aw. I hafta catch the Shockker's Interior Design thing sometime. He's been doing it for a while now, and I'm starting to feel bad about my shoddy attendance record.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

My Boyfriend…

Sid V: Hello, Fred. Still bringing ballet to the masses?
Freddie M: Ah, Mr. Ferocious. How lovely to meet you.
–quoted in Classic Rock magazine.

Another version. And another. And another.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

While nozin’ aroun’ Julian Cope’s site I found this review of Over, a Peter Hammill album I’ve long avoided writing about. It made me think of a friend who’s having a hard time right now. I suspect that he takes more sustenance from his own music than from the work of others (to quote myself, he’s more of a Man than a Fan), but sometimes things like this are all I’ve got to share. Which is a bit shameful.

When I switched on the computer yesterday I had a good laugh. The belter had installed new wallpaper on the desktop—a shot of PH in full keyboard frenzy. Even without the Mac-generated post-it note that read “Rob’s boyfriend. True love 4 ever” written in pink Sand (that most spermatic of typefaces) she had intended to attach, it was a wonder to behold.

I’ll get my own back someday.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Well, Blow Me Down...
Julian Cope weighs in on an album I semi-slagged in Unrestrained! #19. I'm glad he's getting something out of it. Every time I see the thing, priced at $25, on the wall at JJ's, I feel slightly ill at the thought of someone buying such slop. Takes all kinds, and that's what makes life such a sweet fruit, eh?

Monday, August 19, 2002

Moving has thrown me off my grilled cheese game. I’m forced to work with a new frying pan, and, like an F1 test driver working out the kinks in a new chassis, I’m struggling to produce acceptable results. Twice now I’ve pre-heated my instrument to what I thought was a good grilled-cheese temperature, only to reduce the sandwiches to carbon. It’s a great dishonour to the love and care I put into crafting the raw materials—the bread, so evenly buttered; the cheese, precision trimmed to cover the surface of the bottom slice, like cheddar floor tiling. Uncooked, they are beautiful. All I want is to apply a gentle, even heat to transform that beauty into a pure, crisp deliciousness.

I end up taking a butter knife to them and scraping layers of charcoal into the sink. But no matter how thoroughly I scrape, I will never exfoliate my incompetence and shame.

Friday, August 16, 2002

Despite the routine of life, every week is unique. This was a week of extremes, you could say. I phoned my parents’ house to check the messages (they’re away for a bit) and found out that a cousin in Australia had died suddenly. She was just a few years older than me—way too young to go. We weren’t close, but the rest of my immediate family did know her well. I feel terrible for her parents, who have to deal with all this, phoning around, breaking the news to people in distant countries. It seems like they just finished dealing with the death of my cousin’s husband a few years ago. It’s awful when tragedies link together like that.

The nice thing that happened this week was Mel and Adam’s engagement. They’ve been the belter’s roommates for a long time, and they’re both cool and nice. They also kick our asses at (Super) Mario Party every time out. But I don’t mind. Without them there’d be no bowling, no Mitchell, no The Kingdom, and no brachiosaurus on the train tracks. Hooray for the nerds!

This week I also found out that risotto is pretty damn tasty.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Busted out some Hawkwind last night while assembling a cabinet and ripping seven shades of poo out of my hands in the process. The box should have warned me that I’d need to repeatedly bore through sheets of solid metal with a small screwdriver. Not fun, especially considering I have another cabinet to do tonight, but I sure enjoyed the space rock.

The Closer directed me here the other morning. We’ve always laughed at the same things, and this was no exception. I find his sense of humour to be funny in itself, if that’s possible.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Classic Albums #1
Peter Hammill: Nadir’s Big Chance
After the implosion of Van der Graaf Generator and the three harrowing solo albums that followed, Peter Hammill went back to basics for Nadir’s Big Chance. Recorded over four days in December ’74, Nadir is a loose concept record in the Sgt. Pepper’s tradition—a series of unrelated songs performed by a fictional persona. In this instance, Hammill, obviously feeling constrained by his reputation as “Dr. Doom,” adopted the character of Rikki Nadir, a perpetual teenager, predictably unpredictable, vaccilating between self-righteousness and self-pity with every song. The songs themselves are short and blunt; the production (by Hammill himself) is spare and dry, and because of the lack of production gloss, I feel that the album has dated very well. It’s the lovable black sheep of the vast PH/VdGG catalogue.

Nadir’s main claim to fame is the Johnny Rotten connection. The Sex Pistols frontman brought along the album when a British radio station invited him down to spin some of his favourite records on the air. This was a peculiar kind of exposure for Hammill during the heyday of punk. If he was regarded at all, it was most likely as an old progger. And by 1977, Van der Graaf were making a final push to gain an audience beyond the anorak-and-beard set, but were playing many of the same venues as the Pistols. Both bands were grassroots franchises, but guess who got more press? Nadir’s Johnny Rotten stamp of approval is often noted when Hammill garners a writeup in a mainstream publication—The Trouser Press Record Guide, for example—but it wasn’t enough to lift both the artist and this album out of obscurity for long. As Julian Cope wrote in Repossessed, “only me, Johnny Rotten and Fish out of Marillion were fans.”

What the two performers, Hammill and Lydon, shared was a vocal approach, a snarling, mad abandon that often channeled Shakespeare’s Richard III (as separately noted in The Filth and the Fury and Mojo’s VdGG retrospective). They arrived at their theatrical styles from very different origins, however: Hammill was the embittered choirboy, Rotten, the feral gutterpunk. Hammill got down in the dirt to uncover old bones with brushes and dental tools, while Rotten lined up his targets and obliterated them with slogans that still have an impact 25 years later.

Hammill clearly had a few targets of his own in mind when he conceived Nadir’s Big Chance. The album opens with the title track, and the lines “I’ve been hanging around, waiting for my chance/to tell you what I think about the music that’s gone down/to which you madly danced—frankly you know that it stinks!” Nadir then lays down the law, mocking his contemporaries “in their tinsel glitter suits, pansying around” and generally promising to deliver the real deal over the course of the next two sides.

The backing band—the Van der Graaf team of Banton/Evans/Jackson—do their best to keep up with their rambunctious leader. They take a few bars to get up to speed after Nadir’s count-in, but when they lock into the eighth note groove they pump away like John Holmes working for scale (who did I steal that from, acmac, and what was the exact quote?).

The song ends with a defining moment in proto-punk, and a call to arms for those who heard it: “We’re more than mere morons, perpetually conned/So come on, everybody, smash the system with the song.”

As Nadir’s final cry fades away, the album segues into the next track, “The Institute of Mental Health, Burning,” a decidedly odd song written by Hammill’s old bandmate Chris Judge Smith (latterly of Curly’s Airships “fame”). Nadir takes it back a notch to deliver this tale of the ultimate case of sick building syndrome (disregarding Hammill’s old favourite, “The Fall of the House of Usher” for the moment). His restrained, somewhat detatched approach isn’t far removed from David Bowie’s, and I’ve always imagined the Thin White Duke covering this song.

Judge supplies another song later on the album, the classic weeper “Been Alone So Long.” It’s one of Judge’s finest tunes, and Hammill championed it by performing it live for years and years. It’s a simple ballad, led by acoustic guitar, with an elegant bridge between chorus and verse that Jackson’s sax imbues with sadness, mirroring the regret and longing of the lyrics. On Nadir, the simplicity of both the song and the production merge into a satisfying whole, making this track an album highlight.

The remainder of Nadir’s Big Chance is, like its youthful protagonist, all about contrasts. The songs range from the vicious—the near-metal “Nobody’s Business”—to the emotionally fragile—“Airport” and “Shingle Song” are the lovelorn laments of an earnest young man—to the comic—the lust-crazed “Birthday Special” and a more sober remake of Van Der Graaf’s utterly bizarre debut single, “People You Were Going To.”

Despite the slagging of glitter suits in the opening track, the album isn’t that far removed from the glam stylings of early Roxy Music—rock ’n’ roll that deftly blends panache and primitivism. The Van der Graaf boys do quite well at playing things straight for once. Guy Evans hits the drums hard and Hugh Banton does well on bass and his customary keyboards—though he’s no Jon Lord, as his solo on “Open Your Eyes” demonstrates! Star of the show is David Jackson, who sounds extremely happy to just rock out for once. There aren’t many strange time signatures, nor are there many excursions into improv and free sound. The album sounds like it would have been fun to make.

This departure from the multi-layered aesthetic of VdGG and Hammill’s solo albums (with the exception of his first, Fool’s Mate) is possibly the result of Hammill’s desire to cut the crap and clean house. Despite the fact that 1974 was the year that rock achieved perfection (quoth Homer Simpson), perhaps Hammill was becoming aware of the same thing that the punks were waking up to. The starry-eyed first wave of progressive rock was bogging down, and creative stagnation was in the air. Record companies were becoming complacent and bloated, as Hammill documents in “Two or Three Spectres,” the closing track on Nadir’s Big Chance:

“‘Sod the music,’ said the man in the suit, ‘I understand profit and without that, it’s no use.
Why don't you go away and write commercial songs; come back in three years, that shouldn’t be too long...’
He's a joker and an acrobat, a record exec. in a Mayfair flat with Altec speakers wall to wall,
a Radford and a Revox and through it all he plays strictly nowhere Muzak.”

Nadir could be taken as a wakeup call for misunderstood prog rockers and young punks alike.

By cleaning house, I’m referring to the origins of many of the songs on this album, which date back to the very early VdGG days. Nadir was Hammill's last solo album before the reformation of VdGG and a return to epic musical landscapes. Recording these songs at this point in his career was, in effect, a cleansing of the palate for Hammill, his band, and his fans, a street-level rave-up before the blastoff.

I find it revealing that on Godbluff, the VdGG album that arrived a few months later, the first words are “Here at the glass—all the usual problems, all the habitual farce.” They’re prophetic lyrics. The reunited Van der Graaf rocketed on for another 2 ½, 3 years, hitting many artistic apexes along the way. But as Hammill writes in the cover notes of Big Chance, “There’s always room for another Nadir.” The band’s big break never came, and Hammill returned to his solo work, which, apart from the occasional epic, stayed pretty close to the less-is-more ethos he pursued on this album. After he got his big chance, the spirit of Rikki Nadir lived on.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Yesterday evening was a busy one. I took a deep breath and unpacked the monolith of particle board that was the GOLIAT computer desk. Like David with an allen key for a sling, I vanquished the giant Swede, not by toppling him, but by piecing him together into an attractive, multilevel workstation with simulated beech veneer.

(Side note: my pseudo-carpentry was inspired by Cheap Trick’s Dream Police, as selected by the belter. I think it’s as solid an album as Cheap Trick produced (despite some of these reviews), and a fitting climax to the winning streak that was their first five albums (including Budokan). Every track has some outstanding feature, whether it’s the disco string section on “Gonna Raise Hell,” the backing vocal rounds of “The Way of the World” or the epic buildup in the latter half of “Need Your Love.” The Trick’s combination of songcraft and wit has always appealed to me. They’re one of the best examples of how to mix humour and music without it turning into fuckin’ Moxy Fruvous. As a kid, a lot of their funniest stuff went right over my head. Take “I Know What I Want” (vocal by Tom Petersson) for example. The verses are all lovey-dovey “feelings in my heart”-type sentiment, then the chorus roars forth with “I know what I want, and I know how to get it…from you!” The humour functions as a spanner in the works instead of a cloying nudge-nudge/wink-wink. It was cracking me up last night. I want to go home and listen to Heaven Tonight right now!)

(Another side note: Rick Neilsen often uses an evil genius songwriting trick that I can’t get enough of—starting the song with the chorus. I guess it’s a tip of the cap to the Fab Four, to whom he owes a lot.)

After I put the GOLIAT’s final shelf in place, we headed downtown to the Granville Book Company to do some promotional window dressing for the three-day novel contest. To be more accurate, the belter and Kaufman dressed the window while I drank beer and browsed. I remember I used to buy a lot of Arthur C. Clarke paperbacks there when it was called the Mall Book Bazaar. We were there till about quarter to one. The window looks good—a few final touches and it’ll be perfect. I was thrilled to learn that we’d used one of the mannequins from the infamous Michael Slade window display that upset a few people about 10 years ago. The poor thing looked like she’d been through the ringer, which was kind of appropriate for the three-day novel display. She’d get to spill her guts all over again, this time onto the page. It’s a painful process either way.

Monday, August 12, 2002

SPF 0: Painfully Waiting to Peel
I have a bad sunburn. I get burned at least once every summer. This one is quite nasty—my nose and neck got it worst; my legs are a bit singed, too. My whole body is reacting to it. My head’s fuzzy, my eyes are irritated (probably sunburned themselves), and I need to take a nap. The tag in my shirt collar feels like a thorn.

We were at the Under the Volcano Festival yesterday. It was a glorious sunny day, with a nice breeze coming in off the water. The breeze always gives a false sense of security. Its coolness makes you forget that the sun is boring billions of radioactive needles into your epidermis. (Nice sentence, wanker.) We sat down on the grass to watch a band for 20 minutes, and that was it. In the hours afterward, walking around looking at the hippies, I could feel the heat spreading across my body. Something was definitely up. The belter and I checked each other over by pressing fingers into skin and observing the white ovals that slowly faded into the crimson expanses of our necks and backs. Yeah, we’d been thoroughly sizzled.

I remember the worst sunburn of my life. I got it one summer at Alick’s place on Gabriola. I was probably 13 or 14. It might have been the summer that Live Killers came out. We’d spent most of the day exploring Taylor Bay in inflatable dinghies. I’d been wearing shorts and no shirt—a look I haven’t sported since—and, once again, no sunblock. Though the planet still had an ozone layer circa 1980, we both got horribly burned and spent a week in our beds up in that cool little loft. His mother brought us various salves and ointments to reduce the agony. They helped slightly, but they couldn't stop the pain from going right into my bones.

It’s funny—I’ll never forget that pain, but I can’t quite remember how we spent the days while we waited for our sunburns to fade away. We most likely listened to CFOX and mock-interviewed each other into a tape recorder…planning careers that, I hoped, wouldn’t include playing outdoor summer festivals.

Friday, August 09, 2002

I can't wait to see this movie. I was interested to read that Frank Cottrell Boyce wrote the script. I think he wrote for Coronation Street a few years ago. And if it's anything like the Manchester-shot Queer As Folk, a few ex-Street actors are bound to show up on screen.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

I’m intrigued by Super Robertson’s appropriation of my screed for his own online forums. I won’t deny that it’s an honour to have my outpourings appear on roadbedonline from time to time, but I’m pretty sure that netiquette (blargh!) dictates that the original author be asked first. Perhaps I deserve it for letting my jackass go slack. I never did get around to penning “My Ride on the Roadbed Bandwagon” for the Robertson Chronicles. Through his undoubtedly well-intentioned copying and pasting, at least Robertson is forcing me to contribute to the “scene.” It’s not as if I’d turn him down if he asked. Maybe I should request some recording time at the Shockcentre as recompense. I hope this doesn’t launch a potentially detenous feud…
Items Left In Closets by Former Tenants of Our Apartment

Paint cans
A rainbow of pigments ranging from beige to white.

Wooden wheel block with rope handle
Way at the back of the “master” closet. Jenni thought it was A HUMAN HEAD at first.

Carpet scraps

A classic in black satin. On one hand, it’s cool that we can re-enact scenes from Yentl (Guy Caballero’s favourite) when the mood strikes us, but on the other hand, I have a sudden reluctance to eat bacon in our new home.

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Our refrigerator’s broke, so I starve until lunchtime every day, when I can head down to the Xantrex cafeteria for a hot meal made from perishable ingredients I can’t keep at home.

The move has gone well, except for an episode where I went to a Roadbed show by mistake. The belter has installed all her stuff, and I’m almost set as well—forgetting for a moment the thousand-plus pieces of recorded music I’ve yet to truck over. I can't wait till everything's working and we're settled in. I can sense the potential for a very pleasant life ahead. Unfortunately furnishings are pretty sketchy right now. I’m working up the nerve to ask a few of my best and burliest friends to help move a couch that I’m not even sure will fit in the back of Clive’s truck.

If it doesn’t, should I risk another trip to IKEA? We were there Monday, and it was a chilling experience. Like a museum for caucasian/asians without the gilded ropes to keep you in bounds, showcasing not an extinct past, but an imminent, comfortable future you can heave into the back of your minivan. Dozens and dozens of 7/8 sized dioramas depicted possible lifestyles, all identical save for the details and surfaces. Will that be wood grain or white enamel? Futon or metal frame bed? The belter said she’d happily move into her favouritest diorama for a few hundred bucks/month, and I was getting a total BJØNER over stereo stands made from sheets of perforated metal, chrome tubing and chunky casters. We were sucked in and loving it.

Our Print Futures class has dispersed pretty thoroughly, but I do hear from a few fellow students now and again. My buddy Dave FX Sabanes dropped me a line yesterday, fresh from celebrating his 23rd birthday last week. The guy’s got more on the ball than I did at his age. I should have been placed on life support from age 13 to 24—tube down throat, catheter, maybe an iron lung—for all the vitality and wherewithal I had back then. So hail to thee, FX, and your muscle-bound, lady-killin’ ways. (Ever drop by the IKEA? Swedes aplenty!) Trade you a jar of creatine for some couch-shifting, dude.

Friday, August 02, 2002

The Roadbed Quiz at the Railway Club last night was a close-run affair. When all the exams were completed, there was a three-way tie for first between myself, CC Sitdown and Hey Kristian. We each scored 18/25. What to do? Towards the end of the set, the band settled into a quiet groove. Super and Shockk pondered the alternatives. Super decided that crowd response would decide the winner. CC had the biggest cheering section. The Mule only had himself and the stalwart Mr. Black. It seemed the (rather disturbing) ape pencil sharpener would go to CC. But Shockk intervened and called all three finalists to the front of the stage. On the count of three (or maybe four, in my case), we drew—one or two fingers, and the odd man out would win. I decided before the count that I would show two fingers. And I won. I celebrated my victory heartily, but inside I felt bad for CC, whom I’ve always respected. Watching him at the Cottage Bistro several years ago trying to play “Never Talking To You Again” with SR’s disruptive drumming was one of the more moving displays of onstage survival I’ve witnessed. And Hey Kristian, whose brother’s band laid down a thoroughly enjoyable set of jazz fusion earlier in the evening, was also a worthy competitor. Hails to all of them! The pencil sharpener will be placed on a pedestal beneath the chandelier to become the focal point of the new apartment.