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.