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.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Becoming Les Battersby
One of the highlights of the weekend was when the belter led me down to the basement of my local Salvation Army Thrift Store. I felt like a young monk being shown the Secrets of the Brotherhood. A torch, some cobwebs, bats, and mossy earthen walls would have completed the picture. Instead there was only a sign warning us that any abusive behaviour or language was grounds for immediate ejection from the premises. And instead of ancient scrolls and consecrated skeletal remains there was a massive tray of assorted cutlery, husks of obsolete computers, barrels full of golf clubs…the detritus of western civilization!

There were also records! We had no time to rifle through even a small portion of them, but I still managed to make a score: Quo by Status Quo. From 1974, the year rock attained perfection. I paid 54 cents for it, went home and rocked out.

I was mildly creeped out by the Sally Ann’s basement, and the sheer volume of junk down there. It looked like evidence of forced relocation, like the piles of shoes, clothing and jewellery heaped up in WW II concentration camps. Maybe the SA can twist The Bay’s slogan to its own purposes: Shopping Is Morbid. Works for me.

Saturday, September 14, 2002

Went black light bowling with Mel and Adam and the belter last night. We played three games, and had the whole place to ourselves for the last two. The pins were falling strangely, and we think there was something wrong with the lane. There were lots of "goalposts," "the three amigos," and let's not forget "the lonesome dove." I think maybe too many people have been ignoring the "do not loft balls" sign and our lane had somehow become warped from the constant pounding over the years.

I won the first game through sheer luck/karma/divine intervention, and the fact that everyone else was getting warmed up. Later, as the pounding rhythms of "Tragedy" by the Bee Gees simultaneously inspired my companions and sapped my lifeblood, my game went to pieces and the Adam/Mel juggernaut quickly had the scoreboard sparkling with "X"s (which mean strike, you know) and "srares" (a curious typo for "spare" that appeared once and only once. Next time we go, I really hope to get a srare, too).

But it's not all about winning. It's about finding your optimum zone of bowling finesse and relaxation through drinking beer. I love playing sports.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

I sure like tea. I drank a lot of it as little Robbie Hughes. I took my tea like any other youngster would—super-saturated with milk and sugar. So sweet and delicious. When I’d finished the tea there would be a slurry of semi-dissolved sugar at the bottom of the cup. That was the best part. I’d tilt the cup back and wait for the sugar to hit my lips. It oozed like wet concrete down a chute. When it reached my mouth, it was pure goodness…a total rush.

Despite all the tea, the Captain Crunch, the Coke floats, and the brownies, I was a pretty calm kid. I did ride my bike around a hell of a lot, though.

I’m reading A Head Full of Blue, an alcoholic’s autobiography, right now. Can’t you tell?

Back to the tea… I’m very well-catered for at work. There’s like 10 varieties to choose from, and they’re all one brand (except for a small crate of industrial-strength Red Rose). It cracks me up that the packaging for the caffeinated teas features a Ted McGinley male-model type, while the herbal/berry/lemony tea boxes show a wan Paltrow lookalike. In the afternoon sometimes I’ll have a cup of “lady tea” just for kicks. Perhaps I'm sensing the hysterical/sympathetic onset of “Bowser’s Curse.” In any case, hardly anyone else drinks the stuff, and I feel sorry for the Gwyneth tea.

Another thing—there’s no teapot at work. And tea made in the cup, especially the Red Rose, tastes like ass. Doesn’t stop me from drinking it, though. Would the coffee drinkers tolerate the same treatment?
I wrote a buttload more about Rush today. I got carried away, and my breezy concert summary has become a meditation on all things Rush-like. It's quite stupid, and you can expect it later this week.

Spent tonight copyediting 37 pages of album reviews for Unrestrained!, so my eyes and mind are burnt. However, I learned about new albums by Isis (check it out, they're on Ipecac now) and Napalm Death (I could sure do with going to a Napalm show in the next few months), and got further reassurance that I should buy the new Agalloch album. The Energizer's expecting some reviews from me tonight, but I haven't written them yet. The stuff he sent me wasn't too inspiring, though it was diverse--a bit of prog metal (urgh, it's Threshold), some Polish crap (Aion, who fail to gain any mystique by naming themselves after a Dead Can Dance album), and some useful hardcore in the form of Samadhi.

I'm going to have a bath and mull things over.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Flamin' Heck
Stoke now have their own weblog, and they're posting like mad. More fine work from Smash and Mr. Acmacblack. Join them on their, um, rock 'n' roll jihad.

Monday, September 09, 2002

Laughed At By Time
Much to my surprise, I found myself at a Rush concert Sunday night. My friend Bob Sox scored a fistful of comps from the radio station he works at, and distributed them amongst the D Room crowd. God bless the Sox!

The turnout was impressive for the pre-show gathering at Dix. Must have been the $2.50 draft. Mr. Black was there, as were the be-touqued Mr. and Mrs. Smash. Sox, Malty, Gregarious and Scum made the scene. Even the Shockker showed up for some caffeination. Gerald the Rattlehead (in a Dream Theater shirt, natch) was holding court in the corner.

We took off for GM Place around 7:00. Gig time was 7:30, and we had the feeling it would s tart on schedule—this is Rush we’re talking about, after all.

Scum and I had seats along the side, five rows up from the floor. Soon after I sat down, JR caught my attention. He and Rob were a couple sections over. I began to think that everyone I’d ever known was here. Perhaps that was my aunt Agnes over by the lighting board, chatting with Mr. Jameson, my grade six P.E. teacher. Maybe I’d bump into me old rhythm section partner Mike Schmidt by the merchandise stand (t-shirts—$35; Rush wallet—$20; Neil Peart’s new book—$30; being at a rock concert where they sell cotton candy—priceless).

The pre-show music was the usual interesting mix. I’ve always wondered if the band programs this themselves. I remember reading something back in the days of the “new wave” about them playing Talking Heads and suchlike in an effort to open the ears of their fans. And at one of the first Rush shows I attended I recall “Battlescar” (that majestic Max Webster/Rush collaboration) roaring out of the P.A., with an attendant cheer from the crowd that was nearly as loud as the start of the concert proper. A truly Canadian moment from the early ’80s. On Sunday we were primed with “Locomotive Breath” and the Chili Peppers’ version of “Higher Ground.”

Then the lights went down and Rush played “Tom Sawyer.”

At intermission I hung out in the concourse with some of our entourage and watched the people. Who goes to Rush concerts nowadays? The same people who went in 1978, basically. Plus their kids. There were also lots of rocker ladies, and more malformed people than I’d seen since my last evening at Studebaker’s. As I’d predicted, a sizable lineup for the men’s toilet formed quite quickly, while the ladies could walk right into theirs. Heh.

Next time: 6,000 Rush songs, air drumming, and who brought the tot?

Thursday, September 05, 2002

Looks at Books
I’m reading Rick Moody’s Garden State right now. It was his first novel, and in the foreword of this edition, he’s semi-apologetic about this fact. I can see why the belter had problems with the book; it’s not up to the standard of, say, Purple America. For the first time in my experience, the author seems mortal. He hasn’t found his style yet—where are the italics with which Mr. Moody shares a small joke with the reader?*—and I’m not finding any of the characters very interesting or likable. They’re sulky and they think they’re so cool, but they’re not cool because it’s like 1989 and nothing was very cool in 1989. They’re probably listening to Skid Row when they could be listening to Bleach.

The novel follows a close-knit group of twentysomethings who play in bands, have parties, and listen to speed metal. They have unsatisfying sex and do drugs and drive around aimlessly. While I’m reading I keep seeing an over-earnest Gen-X movie in my head, maybe starring Shue or Leigh or Fonda, and I think I’ve seen that movie too many times before.

I’m not giving up on the book, though, because I’m heading into the last third of it and there are a couple mysteries I want cleared up. All will be revealed soon, I hope.

*His use of italics functions as much more than that—it also asserts his narrative authority, I suppose—but that’s the best way I can describe it at the moment. I don’t got all day.

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Twenty Per Cent Off
I ventured down to A&B on the weekend and bought a couple things. I was actually looking for the new Spock’s Beard, but I was denied. Probably just as well because it’s a double album, and those can be a chore to get through even when they’re by a band as light and frothy as the Beard. I probably wouldn’t be able to listen to it straight through before the Christmas holidays.

Instead I got the first Caravan album, which is a true museum piece. Recorded in ’68, it sounds like a semi-botched attempt at getting a state-of-the-art “trippy” atmosphere—drenched in reverb, reedy organ swirling around, and drums struggling to punch through the murk. The songs have the naïve melodicism of The Pink Floyd garnished with occasional psycho-terror vocalizations à la Comus. I’m liking it.

I also picked up Shleep, that Robert Wyatt album I heard at Super Robertson’s party a while back. I listened to it in the background last night while I was copyediting, but a quick leaf through the hefty CD booklet made me pledge to give it proper listen (and read) soon.

Shleep… It’s been a while since I went to sleep with music on, mainly due to the change in my living arrangements. I used to do it nearly every weekend after a night out. Have one last drink of damnation, slap something scary into the blaster and drift off. I don’t dream after I’ve had alcohol, so maybe I was trying to provoke nightmares. I favoured Present, Univers Zero, and anything Italian. Darkthrone, too, very quietly, to provide soothing white noise. I’d only last a song or two; the rest of the album would play out while I slept. Sometimes I’d wake up to silence and the green LED glow of the blaster at 4 a.m. I’d sit up, reach over to turn the power off and quickly pass out again. Other times I’d sleep in properly, wake up, and notice that the blaster was still on…little hangover indication lights at the foot of my bed.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Here’s a top tip for all you budding interior designers: If you’re stuck for a satisfactory living room furniture arrangement, just take all your stuff and push it up against every available wall. This pleasing “perimeter effect” opens up a lot of floor space for exercise, slot-car racing, or eating risotto. If you’re not satisfied with your first attempt, try aiming for symmetry—BILLY bookcases flanking the TV, or twin cabinets on either side of the chesterfield. If you’ve only got one of everything, you’re SOL, I guess. But if you went to the same two-for-one sales as us, a beautiful apartment can be yours as well.
The Youth of Today Have Their Thing
I feel like smacking my temple with the heel of my hand and muttering, “what was that?” It was one of those weekends.

I’ll just talk about the Sonic Youth portion of it right now. Greg, the belter, and I arrived at the Vogue well after the doors had opened on Saturday night. JR saved us some seats, though—really good seats next to the soundboard. Top man. We had about 20 minutes to acclimatize before the opening act, Quixotic, came on.

They were a trio—women on guitar and drums, and a guy on bass. Their grasp of their instruments was pretty rudimentary, something I found off-putting at first, but as the set progressed I realized that their material suited their instrumental capabilities. The songs mixed primitive blues with an old-time spiritual feel. It was clearly a case of some white kids taking inspiration from “negro music,” but I didn’t mind it too much, unlike my three companions. Anyway, I liked that when the drummer (who sang about half the songs) announced a song called “I Am the Light of This World,” the audience shared an ironic chuckle, then fell silent during the song itself (it had a simple dignity), and gave the performance a healthy round of applause afterward. They ended the set with a bass-and-drums version of Black Sabbath's "Lord of This World.” As opening acts go, Quixotic were all right, but I’m very a generous listener, I suppose.

Sonic Youth! They were great! The best I’ve seen them since they turned Crazy Horse’s stage into an equipment-strewn mess back in ’91! SY were in full rock-band mode, playing hit after hit after hit, as well as the whole of “Murray Street,” which didn’t drag down the set at all. In fact, most of the evening’s best moments came from that album. My concept of SY as progressive rockers was fully reinforced by this show. The new stuff has lots of King Crimson parts, lots of Hawkwind drones…even a couple “Xanadu” moments. But never mind my boring old fartiness. I should keep such thoughts to myself. So…There were rock show lights and video projections and tunes like “Candle”, “Kissability,” “Schizophrenia.” The belter swooned at “Skip Tracer” and I swooned at “Shadow of a Doubt.” “100%” false started, but ruled once it got going. Thurston told a story about scamming his and Coco’s way into the IMAX Bears movie at Science World, which was pure comedy. They encored first with a new one and a very old one (“Making the Nature Scene”), then came back for a final tear through “Kool Thing,” complete with audience participation call-and-response and a Kim rap about the troubled career of “Sister Mariah.” Yep.

Oh, and this was my first experience of the new five-piece Sonic Youth. Jim O’Rourke is a valuable asset, taking on six and four-string duties, padding out the sound, and freeing up Kim and Thurston. I think he contributed a lot to the whole “rock” aspect of the show, especially when he and Steve Shelley were the rhythm section. For at least one song on Saturday, Sonic Youth had a bassist who plays with his fingers.