Tuesday, August 26, 2003

I’m reading Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould right now. It’s making me seriously readjust the border I’d drawn between art and science. Gould’s story of the reinterpretation of the Burgess fossils is full of instances of craft, imagination, vision, lateral-thinking…things I’d normally associate with art, but here they're applied to science in an attempt to redefine the course of natural history and our existence…big questions. And what's the difference between trying to construct a viable creature from a malformed remnant inside a rock or trying to build a song from a fragment inside your head? Everyone’s after the truth.

I’m also enjoying the attention that Gould pays to the language of science. In his section on the monographs that describe the Burgess creatures, he likes to point out when the writer’s voice pierces the conventional “monographical” rhetoric. Sometimes the paleontologist’s “personal pride and passion come through beneath the stylistic cover-up.” Diana Wegner, our Print Futures guru, might call these instances a genre innovation.

Art, science and linguistic boners proliferate. I’m onto a winner here.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Rock Bottom
I've seen some unfortunate things in my time, but this one dwarfs them all.
No ideas besides a…
Top 10
1. Daniel Nester – God Save My Queen
2. Enslaved – Below the Lights
3. Cat Power – You Are Free
4. Terrorizer back on the newsstand
5. Alice Cooper – Killer
6. Colour Haze – Los Sounds de Krauts
7. Opeth – Damnation
8. Cuneiform Records sampler
9. Old School (Will Ferrell sings Kansas, Killdozer sings Bad Company)
10. Sleep – Dopesmoker

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Jenn is my co-pilot part 4
I’ve got to credit the Golden town planners for putting the Chevron and the McDonald’s next door to each other. It made our morning extra convenient as we got ready to hit the road in earnest on Thursday. After we gassed up and ate we drove to the first destination on our final day of exploration—Rogers Pass.

Rogers Pass is dead historic. We walked into the visitors’ centre only to find out that you needed a park pass to gain access to the exhibits. I was about to fork out when the belter remembered she had our pass from Banff the day before. In we went.

Lots of taxidermy throughout (all animals, the signs stressed, died of natural causes or in road accidents) depicted the region’s wildlife, and some elaborate dioramas laid out miniature landscapes and key historic events—avalanches, mostly. The 12-year-old model builder in me was pretty riveted by it all.

We found that the best story in the visitors’ centre was the story of Glacier House, a grand hotel that serviced the old railway line (which ran close to the present-day highway) around the turn of the century. When the Connaught Tunnel was built to reduce the grade of the track, the trains bypassed the hotel. Glacier House quickly went out of business and was demolished. Burned to the ground, in fact.

All the visitors’ centre had were some old photographs and a glass case containing a hotel restaurant place setting—some silverware, a cup and goblet reconstructed from shattered fragments, and a menu (main entrees for 65–70 cents!). The belter and I were a little creeped out by the derelict elegance of it.

After a couple gift shops and some photos of the local wildlife (SQUIRREL!) we drove over to the official Trans-Canada highway monument with the twin arches bridging a grand mosaic of our nation. Just to the side of the parking lot we found a trail that followed the 1890 railway line that went past Glacier House. Not wanting to miss out on a cool abandoned thing, we walked along it for a bit, thrilling at the indentations in the ground left behind by the old railway ties. I climbed up the bank that paralleled the trail and found another abandoned roadbed on the other side.

Having been completely spooked by Roger’s Pass, we drove to Kamloops, where we stayed on Highway 1 to Cache Creek. It was hotter than a docker’s armpit in the car and the poor belter suffered from my stinginess with the AC (it made the Altima gutless on the uphills). We stopped somewhere in the desert for peaches and suspiciously Kool-Aid-like cherry cider, then started the long and winding road alongside the Fraser Canyon, surrounded by hell-bent-for-leather semi-trailers. I felt a bit like Dennis Weaver in Duel.

Since there we couldn’t find any rest areas along the highway, we stopped at Hell’s Gate Airtram to use the facilities, only to find (predictably) that they were on the other side of the river—an admission price and a gondola ride away. The nice lady at the gift shop told us that the next rest stop was just down the highway near Alexandra Bridge, and that while we were there we should take the short hike down to the river and see the old bridge. Good advice, it turned out.

We checked out the gondola ride from the parking lot. Somewhere down on the other side of those rapids were the restrooms we wanted. I had to laugh at what else was there for the tourists when they disembarked…a Fudge Factory. Perhaps this housed the toilets. My heart swelled with provincial pride and the sense of history come alive. Simon Fraser himself, upon passing through these diabolical narrows, must have written in his journal: “Never before have I traversed so hostile a passage, and never before have I so desired some fudge. Och.” He evidently had a real sweet tooth, old Simon.

Flustered and fudgeless, we carried on to Alexandra Bridge. There the belter enjoyed the fullest outhouse in BC while I found the trail down to the old bridge. Even though I felt like getting back in the car and pushing for home, we kept walking until we came to an old road, part of the old canyon “highway” from 1926. The road was about 10 feet wide, overgrown, and surfaced with pale, brittle asphalt. You know me and abandoned roads. This was good. We kept walking down to the river. The road turned left and we came out into the sunshine to face…the bridge!

I thought we’d seen some spooky things that day, but the bridge surpassed them all. It was a slim little suspension bridge, almost like a scale model, with crumbling abutments and a rusty metal roadbed. We walked out on it, but we were too freaked out to go all the way across. I especially didn’t like looking down and seeing the river underneath me. The belter made it halfway across, then we retreated to solid ground. While we spent a couple minutes daring each other to go all the way across, a party of older folks arrived and began strolling across the bridge. Emboldened (ahem) by their casual approach, we followed them. As long as I didn’t look down, I was fine.

It was too bad I hadn’t been expecting much and left my camera in the car. Oh well, I’ll just stir the experience into the bouillabaisse of my memories (or whatever fancylady said) and be happy with that.

That side trip gave me a second wind for the drive home. We continued in good spirits, disappointed only with missing the Hope Slide and with the standard of Vancouver drivers during our final hours in the car. I saw more assholery in the last 20 kilometres to our place than I’d seen in the previous 2,000.

Thanks to the belter for giving me fig newtons and juice while driving, to Nissan for the fine Altima, to Clive and Sally for the use of the fine Nissan Altima, to Mel and Adam for minding the place back home, to Elise and Rob in Calgary, and the entire Pohl-Deneka family in Edmonton. Yay for summer holidays.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Jenn is my co-pilot part 3
So, while I was in Edmonton, fancylady was in Calgary with Elise, seeing many fine sights that she’ll tell you about whenever she gets the time to update. (How about now?) On Tuesday afternoon she got a ride up to the City of Champions, and I left the Pohl compound for the first time in nearly three days to go pick her up across town. Thanks to Adam for driving the pace car and leading me there. Phew, it was sure good to see the belter again.

She was sad about leaving Elise, so I tried to cheer her up with a chorus of “Are You Ready For the Country?” as we approached Greg’s place. Where my Nearly Neil Young didn’t quite cut it, a bite to eat at Greg’s place certainly did, and she quickly returned to top belting form.

On Wednesday morning I called ahead to Golden to reserve a room for the night. We packed up and said goodbye to Greg, Barb, Amelia and Colin and hit the road about 11. I promptly got lost trying to find the highway, but it didn’t take long to get pointed in the right direction again.

We headed down highway #2 to Red Deer, stopped for gas and food, and took highway #11 west to Sylvan Lake (waterslides!) and Rocky Mountain House. The driving was fast but dull until after Rocky Mountain House, where the highway began winding gently through a slightly scrubby, stunted forest. From the road, it didn’t look like much went on in those parts, but the ATV trails along the highway and the number of logging trucks on the road indicated that the forest was a relatively busy place.

Lots of busy road crews, too, repaving big sections of the highway. They didn’t delay us for long, and we cruised into Banff National Park and onto the Icefields Parkway. The Parkway was an incredible drive, with new sights around nearly every corner, and all that olive-brown and yellow bilingual signage that gives the belter and I massive patriotic boners. National Parks are the best. We stopped for a bit at the Crowfoot Glacier, then headed to Lake Louise to mingle with the other tourists taking in the smoke-obscured vista from the shore. The effects of the forest fires were still evident.

From Lake Louise we drove to Field for a stop at the visitors’ centre and the Burgess Shale display, as recommended by Adam. I liked it so much I bought the t-shirt. The display was small but information-packed, with some representative fossils of trilobites, Hallucigenia, and the majestic Marrella (which has a DCR song named after it, I think). It’s interesting to consider these lowly creatures swimming around in Middle Cambrian waters only to be uncovered as fossils on a Canadian mountaintop half a billion years later.

We timed the Field visitors’ centre well, because it started raining pretty hard while we were inside. It was still wet for the drive to the Golden Rim Motor Inn. By the time we checked in the sky had cleared up and we had a nice view across a valley from the walkway outside our room. The Golden Rim was a bit sketchy (though very clean and comfortable) and its name suggested an unhygienic sexual practice, but the view was as good as advertised.

We went into town for dinner, and despite Elise’s warning that Golden is the place where bad things happen to good food (or bad food happens to good people), we ate really well. Then it was back to the Golden Rim for cable TV and some rest for the next day’s drive.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Woodfrog Studio Report
Greg’s drum set is so much fun to play. It’s like a baby version of Nick’s giant drum set from Freaks and Geeks. It’s assembled from pieces of at least three other kits, with their different colours and finishes and mounting methods. It’s an eight-piece kit (when I set it up anyway), with a single kick drum and six toms—very Peter Criss.

Because I had the car this year I packed my cymbals and stands in addition to the usual collection of mikes and cords. If Greg’s kit needs anything, it’s cymbal stands. His current ones have been fashioned from mike stands, pipes, and assorted nuts and bolts. Nothing wrong with the cymbals themselves, though. He’s got a great old Paiste 20-inch crash/ride that instantly turns any drummer into Keith Moon. I should have used it this year, but I brought my own cymbals for familiarity’s sake.

Sunday night I got a bit carried away and orchestrated the creation of an epic “Saucerful of Secrets” thing with an outro that tried to out-doom the end of VdGG’s “White Hammer.” By the end of my stay I’d played drums, bass, Moog, theremin, and guitar on it. I think Greg understood, though I’m sure Adam thought I was nuts.

On Monday night I added some fairly sketchy vocals to a rock song I’d recorded last summer with Adam, Greg, and Greg’s brother Wes on drums. On Tuesday afternoon, in the last stretch of studio time before I had to go pick up the belter across town, I recorded another tune, a sub-“Ticket to Ride” thing that Adam might have some vocal ideas for in the future.

So, taking those pieces and adding all the other songs we overdubbed or recorded afresh, it was another productive supersession. Considering my musical output over the last couple years, DCR is probably my main band now. Being immersed in music for a few consecutive days each year does my soul a lot of good, with the personal bonus of feeling useful and appreciated.

Greg gave me another new DCR release to take home with me, a collection of odds and ends entitled Total Bogus that I’ll review in the near future. He also has custody of tapes containing at least two albums’ worth of material—a concept album about the Burgess Shale (more on the shale later), and a collection of unrelated songs. Can’t wait to hear them. Next summer won’t come soon enough.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Jenn is My Co-Pilot part 2
I couldn’t stay long in Calgary because I had to make the final push north to Edmonton—three long hours of cruise-control numbness. I said a sad goodbye to the belter and left about quarter to five. The trip sapped my will to live. With the weekend traffic on Highway #2, I couldn’t even use the cruise control that much. I fueled up at an Esso station in the middle of nowhere, popped in my Max Webster tape, and drove.

A note on Esso’s pay-at-the-pump Spanish inquisition: When I inserted my credit card, the display screen on the pump asked “Insert Esso card?” Well, no, I don’t have an Esso card. I wanna use my credit card. I press the “no” button. Next question: “Car wash?” No, thanks, I wanna get out of here and see my friends in Edmonton. So many questions. What next? “Briefs or boxers?” “Fries with that?” It finally relented and let me begin filling my tank.

I turned off Highway #2 just before the Edmonton airport and headed east, following Greg’s letter-perfect directions along freshly oiled and graveled rural roads to his and Barb’s place in Sherwood Park. When I arrived, they (and DCR bassist Adam) greeted me, put a beer in my hand and propped me up on the couch to unwind for a bit. I needed that.

As darkness set in, we went out to their back forty and started a bonfire. With Kamloops still fresh in my mind, I wondered if having a fire in a secluded woodland was such a good idea, but they assured me that they’d been having regular thunderstorms and that our surroundings were quite moist. Okay then. The bonfire was a fine thing. Kept the mosquitoes away too.

Sunday we got down to serious DCR business in Wood Frog Studio, miking everything up, soundchecking, and plotting stuff to record. I warmed up by adding real drums to some nearly finished songs, replacing the drum machine tracks they’d used until then. This is always fun. Greg and Adam always seem pleased with the results, and I feel this alone justifies my trips to Edmonton. The new material we generate is kind of a bonus.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Jenn is My Co-Pilot part 1
I worked half a day Friday, then drove back home to pick up the belter. I phoned ahead to the Travelodge in Salmon Arm (where we’d be staying) to make sure that it hadn’t gone up in flames yet. It hadn’t. We left about 1:30.

I had to wonder about the fires, though, because driving up the Coquilhalla we could see this huge plume of smoke over the mountains. It wasn’t wispy smoke either. It was solid, like a column of volcanic ash. I wondered if we’d have to dodge burning embers, and crash, thrill-show style, through curtains of flame when we reached Kamloops. We didn’t. The fires were really close, though. We saw one or two hillsides burning beyond the city.

The smoke followed us all the way out of the city towards Sorrento, blocking out the sun nuclear winter-style. Although it was only late afternoon, the sky got very dark and the landscape took on a red hue. You could stare directly at the sun. I made the belter take some pictures.

The sky cleared during the drive to Salmon Arm. We checked into the Travelodge around 7:00 then headed into town for dinner. The belter wanted somewhere dark, and the HPB (“Something Pub/Bistro”) was the place. They had Keno, pull tabs, 800 TVs (Speedvision was within eyeshot) and a wicked satellite radio station, on which I heard “Matte Kudasai” by King Crimson, followed by “Dust in the Wind.” The belter rolled her eyes as I considered moving to the Arm.

After dinner we picked up tomorrow’s breakfast at Tim Horton’s, then went back to the Travelodge where the belter had a swim while I explored the 50-channel universe in our room.

We left Salmon Arm at 8:30 on Saturday morning. Our destination was Calgary, where I’d drop the belter off at Elise and Rob’s place, and I’d continue to Edmonton. We did what sightseeing we could from the car, and I made some notes on where to stop on the way back. Jenn saw some bighorn sheep on the descent out of Golden. I only made out one sheep bum in the rearview mirror. That’s a piece of road you have to devote your whole attention to. We stopped at the Spiral Tunnels after Rogers Pass and waited to see if a train would come through. No luck. When a tour bus pulled up and started unloading, we retreated back to the car.

After the turnoff to Lake Louise in Banff National Park, the forest fire smoke got really bad again, bad enough that we had to roll up the windows and turn off the fan.

We got to Rob and Elise’s about quarter to 4. They weren’t home, but they turned up soon enough, back from dragon boat races at the reservoir. We hung out for a bit and checked out their new house. Ah, Albertan friends and their exotic home-owning ways.