Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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

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

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

It was an ECM kind of Christmas.

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

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

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

Happy new year to all the Difficult Musicians out there!

Sunday, December 29, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 13, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 07, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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