Friday, February 28, 2003

Boys and their stuff.
The belter and I had a nice dinner at JR and Rob’s last night. They’ve been busy acquiring a lot of nice things—a space-age mountain bike, an IMAX-sized computer monitor, a sleek grey cat (Gypsy, named for the Fleetwood Mac song, natch), 8 gazillion DVDs… While I pondered where I could possibly sit down, I was happy to see the ever-present domino stack of new vinyl creeping across the floor at the foot of the stereo cabinet.

I also remarked that the flashing red LED on the spine of Pink Floyd’s Pulse live CD was still going after all these years…since ’95, in fact. Impressive longevity for what must have been a small, disposable battery. Then JR admitted he’d been feeding it fresh AAs every once in a while, so as not to lose the “pulse.” Wow, that’s dedication. JR, you’re a freak and I love you.

(Christ on a crutch, he’s not alone.)

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Drippy Hippy

The latest issue of Mojo contains a nice profile of Kate Bush. It really says something about the musical climate of the late seventies that Kate was considered a lightweight when she first hit the scene. “[The press] mocked her as a drippy-hippy purveyor of ‘wow’ and ‘amazing’” says the article. I also have a Not the Nine O’Clock News record from 1980 that features a Kate Bush parody song called “England My Leotard” (sample lyrics: “People buy my latest hits/because they like my latex tits”). I suppose a mixture of sexism and musical snobbery was at play. She took a nice photograph, and she didn’t downplay the whole soft-focus, raven-haired, ruby-lipped schtick at the time. For the highminded and skeptical, it must have looked like wank fodder for schoolboys. But everyone knew she wrote her own songs, and had been for a long time (she composed “The Man With The Child In His Eyes” when she was 13). She also, the article reveals, called all the creative shots behind the scenes, picking singles and collaborators from her first album onwards.

And I expect the flights of fancy and romantic yearning that her songs evoked clashed with the post-punk, spartan sensibilities of the day. It's interesting to note that one of her earliest champions was David Gilmour of the Pink Floyd. By the turn of the decade the world had loosened up enough to accept her subject matter on its own terms, having become used to the psycho/political mini-dramas of Peter Gabriel and the earnest stylings of the New Romantics in the meantime. Mainstream pop branched off in some strange directions in those days.

If a young Kate Bush emerged today, might her handlers quickly shuffle her off to that “serious” female artist ghetto, and pigeonhole her as Bjork and Tori's polite English cousin? The parodists these days have their hands more than full with Christina, Shakira, B****y, et cetera. She’d be the merest blip on the cultural radar, and I doubt she’d make the cover of Mojo or its equivalent in 20 years.

But I'm just saying. I need a copy of Hounds of Love now.

Monday, February 24, 2003

The Tastebot's Top 30
The little droid that monitors my activity on Amazon recommended the following 30 titles. Am I 50 years old? Am I 25? Am I, as Acmac once put it, singular yet catholic? I already own the titles in bold, so you can see how accurately they've profiled my musical "taste." Crazy. Is this my future?

National Health: Complete
Blue Cheer: Outsideinside
Transatlantic: Bridge Across Forever
Happy the Man: Happy the Man
Captain Beyond: Sufficiently Breathless
Happy the Man: Crafty Hands
Fu Manchu: California Crossing
Moby Grape: High Sign
The Brought Low: s/t
White Stripes: de Stihl
United by Fate: Rival Schools
The Soft Machine: Fourth/Fifth
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead: Source Tags and Codes
Spock’s Beard: Snow
Cactus: Cactology—the Cactus Collection
Blue Cheer: Megaforce Years
Atomic Rooster: Death Walks Behind You
Vanilla Fudge: s/t
Porcupine Tree: In Absentia
Montrose: Montrose (early Sammy Hagar!)
Cactus: s/t
Leaves: Leaves are Happening!
The Flower Kings: Stardust We Are
Budgie: In For the Kill
Nick Gravenites and Mike Bloomfield: My Labors and More
Savoy Brown: Hellbound Train
Shadows of Night: Oh Yeah (best of)
Steve Hillage: Fish Rising
Gentle Giant: In a Glass House
Hawkwind: Hall of the Mountain Grill
Stop it. Put that down.
I spent Saturday afternoon in my parents’ basement, hunched over the long-dormant four-track. I thought I’d ease myself back into recording by doing some overdubs on a couple things I’ve had laying around for a while. I dork-fingered my way through them, re-establishing my status as king of the punch-ins. Actually, I was pretty happy with the addition I made to one song, a horrible blob I’ve built from the drums up, with no idea what might come next. I stuck some piano on there, and I think it might really become something soon.

Before I left for Burnaby on Saturday morning, I searched through my old tapes for some ideas I could work on that day. I found a thing I’d totally forgotten about—The Doomtown Overture, an instrumental I wrote and hastily recorded four years ago. I’d intended it for Doom Town, a Jack Chick/King Diamond-inspired rock opera that Smash and I were going to write. The patented (and interminable) Mule one-finger guitar solo (complete with thin direct-injection sound) mars it somewhat, but I think I’ll keep it as is. It made me laugh, and that’s my main test for whether one of my songs is worthy.

If I do some homework this week, I might be more productive when I return to the basement next weekend. I can already tell lyrics will be a problem. I have nothing to say for myself right now.

He’d probably give me a slap upside the head for thinking this, but I want to take some cues from Super Robertson. He sent me a couple new solo tracks a few days ago. The man’s spontaneity and productivity have always inspired me. With my recording time these days coming in short bursts, I need to adopt his methods. Before I can do that, I need to learn to play guitar well enough to get through an entire song without disaster striking. By the way, I’ll be distributing unauthorized two-song SR CD-Rs at the next Roadbed gig.

The belter and I went downtown on Sunday. Highlights included some gross people dry-humping in the video section of Chapters, learning about the “click factor” so carefully engineered by leading lipstick manufacturers, thumbing through an awesome Kiss book at Virgin, and picking up an Opeth 7-inch at Scratch (one new song from Damnation and one remake, both with a heavy Nick Drake vibe). I wanted to get the new Dirty Three album, too, but I can’t buy everything. I should just listen to Ocean Songs some more.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Weapons of Musical Destruction
Being cable-free hostages of the CBC, we sometimes see unfortunate things on television. One weekend we caught Steve Burgess’s opening monologue on The End. We reacted as if the couch had been electrified—we sprung up and started pacing around the apartment. “What the fuck was that?” “Were those jokes?” “I think they were supposed to be.” “The hell?” “Did that just happen?” Having just seen a man die on television, we couldn’t sit back down. Our night was done.

Yesterday we saw a few minutes of The Great Canadian Music Dream, which plunged our home into madness and despair once again. First of all, that Moxy Fruvous guy hosts it. Hasn’t he already got a show on the CBC? For that matter, doesn’t he have a band? Maybe he should get back together with them and write wacky love songs about Ann Medina or something. Since the Barenaked Ladies went serious, there’s a novelty tune market niche to fill. And he can take solace in knowing that nobody will devote more airtime to his new material than the CBC.

Then there’s the eerily still, not-about-to-rock audience—I didn’t see any close-ups, so I suspect they could just be cardboard cutouts.

Then there’s the acts. I’ve got nothing against homegrown talent. Probably a good quarter of my all-time favourite bands are Canadian. Still, I’d like to say something to all the young musicians out there: Stop it. Put that down. Take a break, go to school, get a trade. Make yourself useful. There’s way too much music out there in the world already. It’s all I think about, and I can’t keep up with it. While I respect your need to spread your “message,” please keep it to yourself. I know it’s fun strumming that guitar you bought last year, I know it makes you happy to sing that song about your funny friends, but believe me, the enjoyment of your mediocre outpourings begins and ends with you. Can’t that be enough?

I won’t discuss my feelings about musicians competing against each other. I’ll get into a digression about Shindig and start crying.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

The term “stoner rock” is pretty lame, but it’ll have to do. I’m pretty stoked on stoner rock not because of its “bong-rattling grooves” and the whole pot angle (boring) but because of its stubborn adherence to old-fashioned musical and production values. Just plug in your guitar and play, man. Unfortunately this scene has produced a lot of cookie cutter bands content to set their sights no higher than producing barely passable facsimiles of Kyuss, early Monster Magnet, or even the mediocre Fu Manchu. There’s a lot of slop clogging up the trough (or resin gumming up the screen).

I keep coming back for more though. Don’t ask me how I ended up with two Electric Wizard albums. I’m not even sure I like them—they’re sloppy, incoherent, and their riffs are completely retarded. They clearly don’t give a fuck, and that’s kind of what keeps me listening, hoping that one day I’ll believe. Plus they’re British, which counts for something with me. They’re the sound of ruination…abysmal in the true sense of the word. Remember Trainspotting, when McGregor tries to retrieve his suppositories down the worst toilet in Scotland? That’s what listening to Electric Wizard reminds me of.

Sweden’s Mammoth Volume are the complete opposite. They can sing, they can play, they’ve got songs that twist and turn, eat their own tails, send out tendrils into your brain. They’re like Yes and Purple and Santana, maybe even the Beatles. If you consider Half Man, Spiritual Beggars, Grand Magus, Abramis Brama and The Quill (the latter two I have yet to check out beyond some MP3s), then it’s apparent that Sweden is mecca for hard rockers worldwide. Mammoth Volume! Rule!

The States sometimes coughs up some interesting bands. I’ve gone on about fuzzular circlenauts Dead Meadow before. Suffice to say I want to be in a band that sounds just like them. I picked up Graveyard Poetry by Abdullah on the weekend, after seeing their name on various year-end lists and hearing the awesome “Black Helicopters.” I have to give them credit for standing out from the crowd, too. Their massed powerchords remind me of Sheavy, but I like Abdullah’s vocalist (Jeff Shirilla, who also writes the majority of the material) better. Sure, they take some cues from Sabbath, but they also incorporate a distinct NWOBHM vibe. Bands like Witchfinder General, Holocaust and Diamond Head come to mind throughout the album. In fact, one song, “Strange Benedictions,” sounds exactly like the latter band’s “Sucking My Love.” I also admire the album for shaking things up tempo-wise, avoiding the sludge-rut that most stoner bands fall into. “Deprogrammed” speeds along like early Metallica before hitting its mid-tempo stride, while the album ends with the punkish “They, The Tyrants.” A fine release from the folks at Meteor City.

Monday, February 17, 2003

I covered a lot of ground on Saturday. I got my hair cut, dropped by to say hi/bye to my folks (packing up to leave for Cuba), picked up King Crimson tickets, had a cup of coffee with Smash, tried to keep Cypress amused, and went to the video store. We bombarded ourselves with videos this weekend—About a Boy (okay, but the bits where it deviated from the book were dodgy, and it suffered from voiceover overkill), Kiki’s Delivery Service (which Cypress watched on Saturday morning), The Crocodile Hunter movie (whatever it was called—I thought they did a good job of constructing a movie around that lunatic), and Top Secret! (hadn’t seen it in a long time—it’s still solid gold).

We went to Chinatown on Sunday. Cypress bought some pretty things with her Christmas money, while we bought a stainless steel flipper at Ming Wo and fantasized about owning a kitchen scale. Turns out that weed stores aren’t the only places that stock precision-weighing devices.

We had a late lunch at the Waterfront Centre food court before delivering Cypress to the good folks at Harbour Air. Whenever I’m at a food court nowadays I feel like a sleazy businessman in a red light district (not that I really know what that feels like, but, uh…). I made the rounds to survey what’s on offer—all those glistening, steaming entrees beaming from backlit signage. The people behind each counter were all so eager to catch my eye and secure my custom. When did food courts become such competitive places? Every time I'm at one it seems really cutthroat. I nodded nonchalantly as I zeroed in on my choice.

I ended up having a hot date with a chicken souvlaki. It did the trick.

Friday, February 14, 2003

The belter could derail a lecture with a single remark. She’d see an opening, label that fucker and let it fly. Boom—bottom corner, stick-hand side. Class would resume after the laughter dissipated.

She also liked the first Roxy Music album.

So she’s quick witted and cool, and I’m deliberate and somewhat embarrassed to exist. I decided to show no fear.

An early encounter went like this: I was talking with classmates in the Douglas College atrium. The belter approached our circle and started pestering me, like a wasp investigating a picnicker’s sandwich. She was obviously overcaffeinated and giddy. I turned around and said in my best vice-principal’s tone, “This is neither the time, nor the place.” I shut her down pretty good, she told me much later.

We eventually found the time and the place—the night of September 6, 2001 on a bench by the upper pond in Central Park. It took a little patience, bravery, and imagination, but there we were.

And here we are. Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetie.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

The Supertramp revival begins here. I even heard "Fool's Overture" coming out of someone's Walkman on the SkyTrain yesterday. I remember discovering FM radio back in the late Cretaceous Period and being frightened by that song. I wasn't creeped out as much as when I first heard Dark Side of the Moon, but it was spooky enough to leave an impression. Believe you me.

I recently saw a Classic Albums show about the making of Deep Purple's Machine Head. Besides the good stuff you usually get in a typical CA episode (washed-out old film footage, band members listening to the master tapes and marvelling at how good they used to be), you also got Ritchie Blackmore in full Three Musketeers mode being interviewed in some kind of medieval grotto, complete with candelabra and suits of armor in the background. Gillan, Paice, Glover and Lord were more down to earth. Glover sported a balding rocker bandana, Lord seemed quite the country gentleman, and Gillan and Paice looked like they’d come in from a backyard barbecue.

The band as a whole were remarkably soft spoken. They had a few good stories about the perilous circumstances surrounding the recording of Machine Head, but I got the impression that they directed most of their attention towards the music back in the day. (I expect they enjoyed a drink or twelve as well.)

Roger Glover delivered what I thought was the best quote of the show, while discussing "Pictures of Home": "We never had a formula, but it's always good to have a shuffle on an album." I totally agree.

Actually, Machine Head features two shuffles. They didn't talk about "Lazy" on the show, and that's the shufflingest shuffle of all possible shuffles.

Machine Head always takes me back to our late-summer visits to the Sarrell family home in Oliver, B.C. The Sarrells were teacher friends of my parents. We’d drive out there in the VW van and load up on fruit. Their son Michael was the epitome of cool to me. He had the big seventies afro (what my hair will become if I don’t get it cut NOW), the sketchy peach-fuzz moustache, and the first collection of serious rock music I’d ever checked out—he had all the Kiss, Purple, and Heep albums. Mike was also a budding naturalist, so his room was full of dead things that he’d found out on the Okanagan bluffs—sheep skulls and snake skins, very large bugs. When he was out, I’d sneak in there and just be in awe. Anyway, it was through him that I first heard “Highway Star,” “Maybe I’m a Leo,” and “Lazy” (not to mention “Detroit Rock City”).

I think Michael now works as a wildlife biologist in the area. He pops up in the media occasionally whenever some strange faunal phenomena occurs. I remember him being interviewed on CBC radio when a massive colony of bats was discovered in a church attic.

After returning from one of those trips to Oliver, I joined forces with the men of Huxley Ave. They had also seen the light, and my life was set.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

We were talking last night about Karen Black and how her wonky eye alignment drives some men wild. This led the belter to speculate that small deformities in women can be attractive. For example, look at the Web sites out there that cater to men’s predilection for women in casts and bandages. I mentioned my well-known fondness for women in glasses. Perhaps that was the same sort of thing.

No, said the belter, that’s different. That's making a fetish out of the object or accessory, not the actual medical condition. If someone was simply nearsighted, I wouldn’t give them a second look. I wouldn’t necessarily regard a woman with cataracts as sexy.

She was right. But a woman with cataracts might be more likely to find me sexy.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

I read an article in the Sun today about the fights at the monster truck Motor Spectacular last weekend (which sounded like a ton of fun anyway—check it out here and here). Around 200 (The Courier sez it was 75) people were ejected from BC Place during this "family event," and fights spilled out onto the plaza surrounding the venue. Apparently Vancouver is the only city on the monster truck circuit where this happens, and stadium officials aren't sure they want the show to return next year.

Fighting at a monster truck show seems strange. I've been to dozens of motorsports events, and the sights and sounds of powerful vehicles have never made me want to sock someone. "Wow, 1200 horsepower!"—boof! Maybe it's just me.

So, how do we explain this? "Vancouver doesn't have many public events," said one official, citing the cancellation of First Night, the Sea Festival, et cetera. "So people don't know how to behave at them."

Which came first—the chicken or the egg?

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

I need to commend Coronation Street for its use of music. It doesn’t use canned background music like American soap operas do. String sections don’t swell during the romantic bits, synthesizers don’t sustain low pedal notes while the villain plans his next move.

The only music on Coronation Street is music that the characters can hear themselves, in real space and real time. It comes out of the radio while Sally fixes breakfast for the gurls, it’s playing on a boom box while SarahLou2 and Candeeeece bemoan their lot in life, it’s danced to at Steve and Karen’s flatwarming party. Music is an important part of life on the Street, and an integral component of many characters’ histories and personalities.

Rita, for example, once enjoyed a career as a nightclub singer. While her air of tragic glamour is subsumed by her daily grind at the Kabin, on very special occasions she’ll take mic in hand and serenade some lucky patrons at the Rovers. Then there was the time she disappeared after Alan Bradley terrorized her into psychosis. Alec Gilroy found her in Blackpool, where she had returned to her old life as an entertainer. For Rita, music ties her to the past, her youth, and another life. The same could be said for many of us.

Then there’s Les, with his fondness for all things denim and leather. Music for him is a good time, part of a weekend afternoon out in the sun with a few cans. If someone wants to join him, all the better. Even through his tastes make everyone on the Street cringe, he’s always eager to share. When someone’s throwing a shindig, he’ll plump for being the DJ. Les gets more excited about music than any other character on the show. I always picture a milk crate stuffed with well-worn and well-loved vinyl on the floor of the Battersby abode. He probably doesn’t have many records, but he’ll lug the ones he does have around with him until his pasty, ginger-furred legs give out. Les’s past is the present, his youth is but a Quo song away. I can relate.

In a way, I started watching Corrie in earnest because of music. It was 1986, and a young Martin Platt was going out with Jenny Bradley (daughter of the aforementioned baddie Alan). One episode featured a scene where they were getting hot and heavy on Rita’s couch to the strains of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush singing “Don’t Give Up.” Wow. I’d always had certain yearnings, and that scene captured a kind of romantic ideal for me—a girl, some nice music, some grappling. It flipped a breaker in my head, and I was hooked on the show from then on. (That particular plotline unfurled in gripping fashion—a car crash, Martin in a coma, lies and deceit…)

The musical aspect of Coronation Street sometimes spills over into the real world. Actors from the show have recorded singles and albums, and toured internationally. You’d sometimes see ads for Bill “Jack Duckworth” Tarmey albums during Corrie commercial breaks. Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts) once played in a band with the pre-Smiths Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke. I can remember the British contingent on Usenet’s (RATUCS) falling about themselves with mirth when both Adam Rickett (Nick Tilsley) and Tracy Shaw (Maxine Heavey/Peacock) took to the airwaves with “hit” singles. But so far no Corrie thespian has managed to escape the novelty act ghetto and seriously challenge Kylie, the queen of singing soap stars.

One episode last week provided the perfect example of how Coronation Street weaves music into the fabric of the plot (blargh). Peter Barlow’s army buddy Ciaran installed himself at Peter’s place. Ciaran took note of Peter’s living arrangements. “Pete and Shelley,” he said. “Pete Shelley!” Shelley didn’t see what the joke was, so Ciaran pointed it out. “You know--The Buzzcocks?” Later in the episode, the Buzzcocks’ hit “Ever Fallen in Love?” served as the soundtrack to sexual tension, playing in the background as Ciaran watched a pre-coital Peter and Shelley disappear into the bedroom. Cut to Maria, crying on the sofa, having just learned that Nick had a girlfriend in Vancouver. The Buzzcocks are still playing, and the effect is still taunting and ironic. Continuing the music across two different scenes bent the “real space/real time” rule I described above, but it worked well. Mike Plowman, I found out today, felt the same way.

When you mention Coronation Street and music, most people will probably think of Eric Spear’s theme song. It’s probably one of the most famous pieces of music in the world. Even non-CS fans must recognize that loping horn melody. As far as I know, the theme song--the recording, the arrangement--has never changed. ITV has never commissioned a Fatboy Slim remix or any such nonsense (although an unreleased version by Stock/Aitken apparently exists). Even if the producers have remastered it for the digital age, its nostalgic essence has remained intact. No one dares mess with it. The endurance of the Coronation Street theme reflects the show’s approach to music as a whole. The writers and producers recognize music’s allure, its power to evoke feelings and memories, and they give it the respect it deserves.

Monday, February 03, 2003

It was nice to hang out for a couple hours in front of Smash’s stereo yesterday.
Sheavy – Celestial HiFi
Anathema – A Fine Day to Exit
Clutch – Jam Room
Wicked Innocence – Worship
Klagg – This is Klagg
Voivod – Voivod
Tendonitis – s/t
Joe Satriani – Strange Beautiful Music
Bozzio Levin Stevens – Situation Dangerous
Herbie Hancock – Thrust (best album cover ever…sorry it’s so small here)
Ruins – Tzomborgha
Masters of Reality – Live at the Viper Room
Garaj Mahal – Live at the Backstage Lounge

I finally finished my SYL article this morning. I was surprised by how much interview material I had to leave out. I’d been planning a sidebar containing Mr. Townsend’s thoughts about the Vancouver metal scene (yawn), but the main body of the article reached the word count by itself. It’s not a great loss. Maybe I can spin this extra material into a shorter article for some other mag.

I emailed the thing to the Energizer this morning. He’s pleased with it, so I’m pleased with it. Not the greatest thing I’ve done, but it’ll suffice. Frank Zappa once said that music journalists are people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read. I don’t agree with him, but in Unrestrained’s case it often holds true.

“One In Their Pride” (for the astronauts)