Monday, September 29, 2003

The weather was stupidly hot all weekend. I wasn’t ready for it and I don’t think anyone else was either, judging by the general crankiness I observed outside. Saturday was really bad for crabby couples. Every time I ran an errand I saw some snit flare up or a full-on slanging match underway.

On a side trip to the Brentwood Zellers toy department I came across some Todd McFarlane Metallica figures in the clearance racks. I considered buying the Jasonic Newkid doll so I could paint a Voivod logo on its shirt, but I decided I could find better ways to amuse myself for 8 bucks.

I went to Smash’s place Saturday night for a good party around the stereo with other hi-fi enthusiasts. As always it left me with lots to think about, including the idea that The Inner Mounting Flame might be the greatest album of all time. No other record can be better; only different. I also finally got to see the Trailer Park Boys episode where they kidnap Alex Lifeson after being denied tickets for the Rush concert. Too rich.

With fancylady representing Anvil Press in Calgary, I skipped Corrie on Sunday morning (taped it for later). I farted around for a bit, then went downtown to Word on the Street. There was a big crowd around the Anvil table, and it looked like they were doing good business. I went to the “Everyone’s a Critic” forum moderated by John Burns of the Straight, along with Katherine Monk (who is funnier in person than in print), Colin Thomas, Lorna Jackson and Mary Frances Hill from the West Ender. I visited the Bookmobile in the CBC plaza to gather info for the belter, then dropped by the Print Futures table to talk to some fellow victims.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in Burnaby, where too many eras are ending in my old neighbourhood. I still get to mow the greenest lawn on the block, though.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Everyone should just shut up about Adrienne Clarkson and her “$1 million” trip to Russia, Finland and Iceland. It’s because she’s promoting culture, isn’t it? If she was out surveying a new oil pipeline, would the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation piss and moan so much?

The new Unrestrained! is out, so I’ll plug away. I’ve got a few things in it, including a review of In Harmonia Universali by Norwegian duo Solefald. They recently got a grant to travel to Iceland too. They took in some Viking re-enactments and wrote some music for their next album during their visit. Great. Can’t wait to hear it.

I know nothing about Norway except what I’ve gleaned through its musicians, who are an exceptionally articulate, creative, passionate and occasionally pyromaniacal lot. Norway must be a fine country to produce all these internationally recognized artists from such a small population. Cultural exports make for great PR.

“Ah-ha,” says the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation. “It didn’t take a million-dollar boondoggle/junket to make you aware of Norway’s culture. That was the free market’s doing.”

Yes, but wait. From what I understand, a lot of Scandinavian musicians get their start at government funded youth centres, which provide band rooms and instruments for kids who need a hobby. Dozens of bands with international distribution began this way. If a country provides the infrastructure, maybe the rest takes care of itself.

Monday, September 22, 2003

What a weird weekend. Saturday the belter and I went to (hung out on the periphery of) my company picnic at Confederation Park in North Burnaby. After we got off the bus at Hastings and Willingdon we saw this little stray dog, collar-less and obviously lost, wandering in and out of traffic at the intersection. People were stopping their cars, getting out and chasing after it. He/she wouldn’t let anyone near him/her, though. We were just about to call the pound when one woman pursued it down an alleyway, out of harm’s way. I hope she caught up to it. It looked like a cool little dog, but I think it was set for a life on the street.

Never having been to Confederation Park, we walked right past the picnic and then got lost. We did come across a pretty rad miniature railway, though. We found the picnic in time to get in on the last dregs of lunch but too late to score any beverages. The belter ate a burger that soon had her feeling as foul as the water in the executive dunk tank. Maybe a turn in the bouncy castle might have helped? I said hi to a couple people, then everyone gathered around for the raffle. Lotsa prizes on offer. We won a copy of Stitch! the Movie—hope the stinker hasn’t already seen it. It would have been cool to win the DVD player, but lady luck didn’t deal us any consumer electronics that afternoon.

After the raffle we walked up to the McGill library. That whole area has been redeveloped since I was last there. The old library is gone, replaced by a larger metal-and-glass affair. We went in and loaded up on stuff, including Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? which we watched that night. Now I truly understand the genius of SCTV’s Whatever Happened to Baby Ed?

I also found the latest Alan Warner novel, The Man Who Walks. The belter wanted it immediately, but I got dibs on it for bus reading. I felt a bit bad, since finding a new Alan Warner for her is probably the equivalent of me coming across a new Van der Graaf Generator album. I promise to pass it on ASAP, fancylady.

What about Sunday? It started with one of the best Coronation Street omnibuses ever (the game’s up for Richard!) then I headed to Burnaby where I mowed my folks’ lawn and went over to jam with the kings of Patrick. It took a while to get a band together, but I found a stash of Bob Sox’s old Kerrang! magazines from ’81 to ’84 that kept me more than amused in the meantime. So much good stuff—the original review of the epochal Script for a Jester’s Tear, a shot of up-and-comers Metallica (McGovney/Mustaine lineup), with Lars in white spandex, Girlschool, Wendy O Williams, Lee Aaron, the great Rock Goddess (Sox has always had a thing for women in rock), and a very weird photo comic strip depicting a bloody battle for supremacy between Cronos and Jon Miki Thor (who was all over Kerrang! back then) in which our boy trounced the pasty pseudo-satanist and made off with the girl.

Then Smash showed up and we had to jam. Rats.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Berth of Indignation
The belter and I spent almost the entire weekend on the Queen of Nanaimo. First on the midnight run to Saltspring (where we’d go to the fall fair the next day), then an early Sunday morning sailing to Mayne, followed by an afternoon trip back home. This last voyage was by far the sketchiest. Dad dropped us off at the ferry terminal, where we found a handwritten sign saying that the sailing had sold out. The ferry, we assumed, was already full of fairgoers leaving Saltspring, with no room left for us Mayne Island types. We ran back for Dad before he took off in the Volare, then joined the mob by the ticket booth. We considered backtracking to Victoria and sailing home from there, but eventually the crew of the Nanaimo and the unfortunate ferry corp. employees in the ticket booth reached an agreement on the radio and they started selling tickets.

When we got onboard, we had no option but to find some empty space along a wall and flop down on the floor. That’s not to say there weren’t any seats. It’s interesting to note the dynamics of personal space in a ferry seating area. It’s not like a bus where you might move your bag off the seat beside you to make room for another person. It’s not like a crowded movie theatre, where you don’t hesitate to ask if those two seats are taken. The nature of personal space on a ferry is very suburban, with people using their baggage to form buffer zones around them, pulling up empty seats to use as footrests, and similar tactics.

I guess it’s hard, on the trip back to the Mainland, for people to make the transition from the quietude of the islands to the close quarters of city life. The ferry is where that adjustment starts to happen, where we have to face the hell that is other people again. Unfortunately that adjustment doesn't translate into much action during the trip itself, which is why on a crowded, sold-out Queen of Nanaimo, only 1/3 of the seats have actual humans in them.

Or maybe it’s because people are just selfish bastards.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Mongoose played the Pic last night, so I went down to check them out. I missed the first band, Hope Against, which wasn’t a big deal. I’d seen them a couple weeks ago at Snackerz. Lonesome Pine were second on the bill. Their schtick is playing punk rock Stompin’ Tom covers—a solid fuck-band concept, but in execution every song had the same quickstep Ramones powerchord blur. As I predicted, their version of The Hockey Song sounded exactly like the Hanson Brothers’ version. The multilayered meta-music culture cannibalism vibe of the show got even stronger when I noticed that the singer had a Hansons t-shirt on. Was Lonesome Pine a tribute to the Hanson Brothers doing a tribute to the Ramones doing a tribute to Stompin’ Tom? I wasn’t drinking, but I needed to give my head a shake. I salute them for naming their band after Lenny Breau’s dad, though.

Mongoose made a good showing musically—Shockk and Brock and the bass guy were great. Shockk and Brock in particular pushed each other to new levels of intensity as the set progressed. Their singer spent more time flailing around on the empty dance floor than up on stage with the band. I’ve disliked this approach ever since a particularly bad Decline of the English Murder show where JR went walkabout and scarred me for life. I think if you’re in a band, you should be in the band. It’s not experimental theatre, there’s no fourth wall to break through. Stay on stage and support your chums. Anyhow, expect big things from the Mongoose, with their album getting some proper distribution and a possible tour in the future (brace yourself, Edmonton). They got a typically addle-brained review of their CD in this week’s Georgia Straight, too, which is a sure sign that everything’s falling into place.

By the way, did anyone read Steve Newton’s attempt to review Popoff’s Top 500 book in last week’s Straight? No, strike that. The word “attempt” implies that he tried to write a book review. However, he did attempt, successfully, a number of other feats:
-Ignoring the substantive content of Popoff’s book.
-Preferring narcissistic drivel over discussing someone else’s hard work.
-Depicting Black Sabbath riffs onomatopoetically.
-Wasting valuable column inches with same.
-Embarrassing himself and the Straight.
-Abusing his privilege.
-Making me angry for a couple solid hours.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

While I sorted through a punchbuggy-sized heap of clean laundry last night I listened to Secret Treaties by Blue Oyster Cult. I’ve had the album for a long time—JR gave it to me when he was dispersing the collection of a dead friend—but I’ve never given it a proper listen. Reading an intriguing Progressive Ears thread inspired me to pull the annotated sleeve* off the shelf and put the well-worn LP on. Holy crap! This album is amazing. When was it recorded—1974? It has a very garage-y sound, like the band couldn’t afford Marshalls yet, so it’s not all that heavy, but listen to those riffs, those songs! The fact that an American band was producing this noise must have excited a lot of people at the time. The tunes kind of bridge the transatlantic gap between the dark science of Vol 4/Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and the streetwalkin’ grittiness of The Stooges and MC5. Kiss also factors in there somehow, but I haven’t figured out where yet.

Never mind my fetish for the dark side of the '70s; if this album had been released yesterday I’d be equally into it. Adventurous in spirit but highly accessible, it’s music for the people that didn’t pander to its audience (insert digression about Max Webster here). I can see why BOC inspired the young Mike Watt and D Boon to pick up instruments back in the day.

*there’s a handwritten note to the album’s previous owner on the back cover: “[name withheld and blacked out], Well, we’ve made it this far… Why not go all the way, huh? I love you babe and always will. Together we can make it through anything. [following words are blacked out] Love always directed twards you, [name withheld]”

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

Dogs and Donuts
We went to the PNE last Sunday. I think the last time I went was when the Cult, touring for Electric, played the Coliseum during the fair. I don’t remember doing anything PNE-related before the gig (besides visiting the beer garden), but I remember the mini-riot that erupted at the end of show, which saw my friend JR embracing the anarchy by climbing on stage, then jumping back into the crowd after a split second of glory.

The PNE is pretty much the same as it ever was—crowded, loud, expensive, fragrant and slightly seedy. You have to embrace these qualities.

As soon as we arrived we headed straight to the Coliseum for the Superdogs. I had a dodgy moment when the emcee, a desiccated Bob Barker type, came out. I couldn’t decide if it was his white satin ensemble or the fact that he was gliding around on rollerblades that made me want to flee. Fortunately the arrival of the Superdogs diverted my attention. They ran races, jumped real high, and were just generally doggy and spazzy. The crowd, including fancylady and the stinker, went nuts, and if that wasn’t enough, we all got to go down to the floor afterwards to meet the Superdogs, who stayed surprisingly calm as people mauled them. We said hi to the Rottweiler and the smallest, fastest dog before heading out.

After some food, livestock viewing and an aborted trip to the pig races, we went in search of some kicks at Playland, picking up some mini-donuts along the way. Bob Barker on rollerblades hadn’t scared me enough, so I decided we’d check out the haunted house. The haunted house at the Playland of my childhood was pretty harmless, but the new one is so scary it isn’t even funny, as Count Floyd once said. Not only do you have to negotiate a maze in total darkness, but real people leap out to startle the bejeezus out of you. Jenni got menaced by some guy with a scythe at one point, while I made a hasty exit when a Jason-a-like popped up and revved what sounded like a power drill. Phew.

Cypress went on the Wave Swinger while Jenni and I got our bearings. We were badly outnumbered by kids out for the last fling of summer vacation—girls in sausage-casing jeans for maximum torso extrusion; guys with neck chains, backwards baseball caps and shell-suit pants. Yo. Playland is the epicentre of teenage trashiness. I was never a teenager, so I have no business commenting, but everybody looks like they’re trying way too hard. Whatever. I don’t understand their deal any better now than when I was 12+4.

Playland is also quite a hard rocking place. I heard enough Rob Zombie to last me for quite a while, with “Dragula” blasting out of every other ride.

There’s no loggers’ sports or demolition derby at the PNE anymore, so the Monster Motor Madness show was the next best thing. A monster truck drove around, “crushing” some already well-flattened cars; a fire-breathing tank-dragon thing came out and chewed on a big tire; and some mini-monster trucks raced around some pylons. The show as a whole was pretty boring until they set up a ramp and brought out a couple Extreme Motocross guys to do some aerial tricks. What they pulled off in mid-air was truly insane. I mean, it was bad enough that they were 50 feet in air, never mind that they were letting go of the handlebars and pirouetting around. Madness.

We considered another walk down the main drag to see some cookery demonstration stuff, but by late afternoon the crowds had become really dense. It felt like the right time to head out. We gambled our remaining pocket change on roulette and ring toss on the way to the exit gate, and that was it. Good day.

Monday, September 01, 2003

In the early 70s, Vancouver musician Hans Fenger decided to get a real job. His girlfriend was pregnant, and he couldn’t raise a family on earnings from club gigs and guitar lessons. He got a teaching certificate and a job in the Langley school district. He found some common ground with his students by teaching them what he knew—rock songs. He had no idea what he was doing, but with the encouragement of some colleagues, he soon found himself in charge of multi-school children’s choirs belting out the hits of yesterday and today. Their set list included lots of Beach Boys and McCartney (Beatles and Wings), a bit of Bowie, Neil Diamond, The Eagles and Klaatu, all set to arrangements that Fenger adapted to acoustic guitar, piano, snare drums, cymbals, and bells.

God only knows what the parents in Langley thought of school concerts consisting of “Space Oddity” and “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft.” The choir and their hip repertoire must have become a pretty big deal, because Fenger recorded the choir twice (in 1976 and 1977) by setting up a reel-to-reel and a couple of mikes in an empty gymnasium, without the distractions of expectant families and friends. He used the tapes to press a few hundred records for the kids and their parents.

25 years later Bar None Records compiled and released these singular documents as Innocence and Despair: The Langley Schools Music Project. I read a lot of press on it when the CD was released (what with the local angle and all), but now that I’ve heard it, it’s as wondrous as the hype proclaimed.

It’s a strange experience to hear the songs stripped down to just a vocal line and some faint, disembodied accompaniment (except for the drums, which are loud and occasionally random!). None of the songs suffer for it, they just become…something else.

I only intended to listen to the first couple songs when I first put it on last weekend, but I ended up listening to the whole thing in one go. For the belter, it made the Beach Boys acceptable. For me, it made me realize that Alan Partridge may be right: perhaps Wings were the band the Beatles could have been.

Two solo performances on the CD are worth noting. Joy Jackson sings “The Long and Winding Road”—this kid is totally the best singer in her school, as I was heard to remark when I first heard it. You know how there's always that one kid who's famous schoolwide for her/his one thing? That was Joy and her Beatles song, I bet. A few tracks later, Sheila Behman takes on The Eagles’ “Desperado” in amazingly poised fashion. I can’t stomach most solo kid singing, especially these days when young singers adopt that modulated and nasal faux-R&B style, patterned after the shite that drips out of their TVs. But these kids’ voices are so plain, clean and honest, it’s a minor revelation. They just sing the songs using their own voices. How radical.

I intended to write only a couple paragraphs about this album, and things got out of hand as usual. If you’re in Vancouver/Burnaby you can get this CD at the library, so pick it up and hear it for yourself (I hear they've pressed so many that they're selling them too. If you're feeling adventurous and flush, visit your local CD retailer). You can then formulate your own take on Innocence and Despair and safely disregard all of the above…if you haven’t already.