Monday, July 31, 2017

Notes from the Evacuation Zone....

Thursday – I was on my way to from Prince George to a class reunion and some work in the Prince George office. I was riding up with a former classmate who I had not seen in 30 years. She picked me up from Scott Road Station and we hit the highway.
We had spent the past two weeks monitoring the forest fire situation in the interior of the province, not knowing if we were going to be able to drive at all, or if we were going to have to take the long way around over the Coquihalla and the Yellowhead highway.  We spent most of that time assuming the latter.
Wednesday night I checked the road reports again – Hwy 97 was closed, as It had been for weeks from Lac La Hache to Williams Lake and Williams Lake to McLeese Lake. The evacuation order had only been reduced from “Evacuation Order” to “Evacuation Alert” in the previous 24 hours… but the Highways were still closed.  The next update would be early morning.
On my way to SkyTrain I checked again – no change apart from when the next update would be – around 12:30.
My ride made a pretty significant navigation error and ended up picking me up about an hour late. We hit the highway and compared notes – we both had the same information – Hwy 97 closed, so we were heading for the Yellowhead.
But when we made the almost obligatory stop in Chilliwack we stopped in Tim Horton’s and while ordering a turkey BLT my phone sent me an alert (I love living in the future. My phone, based on my past searches, figured that I would like to know that the 12:30 update had been released.) announcing that Hwy 97 was now open.  So we changed our plan and decided to take the short route.  Ironically, if she had picked me up on time we would now have been well on our way around the long way.
As we cleared the north end of the canyon we saw our first signs of forest fire – four distant columns of smoke. Never a good sight, but one that anyone who has grown up in the interior takes as a given, just one you don’t want to see close up or often.
Soon enough we were coming up on Cache Creek and we got our first taste of the strange.
First some burn-scarred field.  Then a LOT of burn-scarred field. Soon one entire side of the highway was a moonscaped hillside – totally devoid of life.  The highway had deliberately or accidentally served as a fire break and the East side of the highway was relatively healthy… for a while.  But soon it too was blackened and we could see the telltale signs of what had once been buildings and other unidentifiable slag.  But there were weird, creepy, yet thankful exceptions.
There were places where the burn line suddenly and inexplicably stopped, possibly halted, mere meters from homes in a long line by a shift in the wind.
In one case a single lonely home lay in a shallow valley surrounded on all sides by black – all the way up to the porch, yet entirely untouched by actual fire.  One imagines a determined homeowner fighting fire on all sides… or perhaps the house itself was simply inflammable compared to the intensity of fire that knocked upon its door.
To the west, it was easy to imagine Brodie helmeted troops “going-over-the-top” to charge their way to a trench 100 yards closer to Cache Creek. The land was that barren.
Driving into Cache Creek proper revealed clear evidence of desperate fire fighting techniques as everywhere one looked you could see orangey-red fire retardant somewhere in front of you.
While stopped for gas and to update the family by phone of our progress I was approached by another motorist about what I knew about the highway north. The content of the conversation was pretty pedestrian, but the tone was sober. We both suspected that what we’d witnessed in the last few dozen kilometers was just the tip of the iceberg. We were right.
Just North of Cache Creek, looking eastward we could see more smoke rising in columns, but this was closer than usual and it was ugly looking smoke.  The convection currents it was creating were as strong as I have ever seen.  Rather than the billows of smoke rising and curling into the sky in an ominous, but almost gentle fashion that you had to concentrate on to see changes, this was a violent brown coil, changing moment to moment. Mother nature drunk and dirty and flipping the bird at an entire valley.
Soon the road was wet – signs of passing, but missed rain.  No doubt a welcome sight.  And in minutes we caught up to it. Hard. A rain where one is obliged to slow down because even at full speed, the wipers cannot really improve visibility. A rain whose intensity cannot sustain. There is simply no way the sky can hold that much water for long. A rain that while certainly of use to the parched area we were driving through would be far more welcome back and the sickly magical spire of hades we had just passed.
And then the signs started appearing.  Hand-painted, spray-painted, hastily and carelessly on sheets of water damaged warped plywood.  Each one with the same simple, uninspired verbiage with a heartfelt inspiring message – “Welcome home.” Now we were impostors. By being on the road with our momentum cast into the heart of the province we had a substantial head start on evacuees. Skipping ahead to today, it is clear that with scattered exceptions most of the earliest ones to return will actually be on their way this morning. But yesterday, we were among the first few hundred people other than those on the front lines to be headed to the evacuation zone. And while we were in a sense headed home, the message was absolutely not for us.
Just south of Lac la Hache, at the edge of the evacuation zone we were stopped at a check-point. We were met by a mix of a few dozen police, members of the military and ununiformed workers – whether they were fire-support, actual fire fighters or highways or a combination of was unclear. The road was blocked off.  We had been expecting this. We waved and thanked people for their work – again feeling a bit like we were masquerading as the displaced. A young man in fatigues approached the car and informed us that we could not proceed without police escort and that we would have to wait for the next one to arrive, bringing a convoy southwards to this edge of the zone. The wait would be about fifteen minutes he figured.
He had overestimated by about fifty percent, which was a pleasant surprise when we were on our way sooner than expected.
And then things really started to get surreal. 
The black scored fields south of Cache Creek were now replaced with charcoal spectres of trees burned down to their cores. Just as many miracle homes scattered the haunting landscape… and weirdest of all was the complete lack of life. Many building had lights left on, but no one was home. Anywhere.
It was like a scene out of an apocalyptic film or TV show. One expected zombies to stagger around the corners of a corner store, but even that would have been more activity than we saw for mile after mile – occasionally interrupted by a large military vehicle lumbering along in the opposite direction – just to highlight the air of being where a battle had recently been waged. If you’ve seen the Gareth Edwards’ film “Monsters” and recall the end of the film on the American side of the exclusion zone, that was how it felt… minus the giant luminescent squid.
Apart from the occasional roadside encampment of the previously mentioned mix of workers, police and military there was no sign of humanity for kilometer after kilometer – occasionally front porch lights were on, but no indication anyone was truly at home, punctuated by places where a single house had lost the wildfire lottery, tucked among surviving structures which had mysteriously been spared. In one case one end of what appeared to be a motel was charred and collapsed where the other end still had lights on.
Arriving in Williams’ Lake a few businesses were open along the highway, yet still the overall activity level hovered only just above the background noise of loneliness.
Approaching McLeese Lake we once again were hit by rain that was remarkable in its’ hammering intent. I imagine that if we were outside that the rain would have smelled similar to yet another downpour that would hit two days later in Prince George where the pre-storm ozone would give over to an odour like wet charcoal… who knew the air could be that infused with particulate? And yet, of course it was, why hadn’t that occurred to me sooner?
That marked the worst of it. Though walking about six blocks through downtown Prince George the next day I overheard three separate conversations that revealed the participants to be evacuees.  Which was startling, but should not have been surprising considering the temporary population of the city was now about 1/8th evacuee.  Later that afternoon I would witness one of the very evacuees I’d previously identified casing a friend’s vehicle.  I expect if we had not come out of the bookstore we were in almost as quickly as we had entered that there would have been a break-in instead of an awkward attempt to pretend nothing untoward had been going on.
I expect that most evacuees are less desperate, more grateful and better inclined to carry civic-pride up the road from their proper home to their temporary one, but no doubt this was not an isolated incident.
Our trip home was considerably less remarkable.

William’s Lake has much more life – having had three days’ worth of time for evacuees to return. That was an effort that was still very much continuing with signs directing returnees where to go as they came home. I don’t really know if returnees were expected to check in before going home, or the other way around. Do they check in and get the good or bad news before they have to see it first hand? Or do they go home and then come to register for any resource support they now need?

But still a substantial portion of the evacuation zone was once again closed, requiring us to detour from 100 Mile House through to the Coquihalla – including through some previously evacuated areas like Little Fort, but nowhere was the ambiance of disaster so prevalent, except arguable in Barriere which had its own fire only a few summers ago which is still very evident and at the same time it is encouraging to see the black wizards of old trees surrounded by the verdant green of Mother Nature bringing back life to that corner of the world.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Joshua Tree - 30 Year Anniversary Tour - Opening Night - Vancouver

Okay... after five days, my in depth review of the opening night of U2's 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree Tour...

As I've said elsewhere the worst U2 concert I've ever seen, is STILL a pretty great show.  And yes, this was the worst.

Let's place that in context a bit by reviewing quickly what it was up against:

November '87 at BC Place - the original Joshua Tree Tour.  Not only was U2 arriving to the position of being the biggest band on earth, but the concert itself occurred right after the Enniskillen bombing. They had already done the San Francisco show that is featured in Rattle and Ho-Hum but Vancouver was the next day after San Fran and they were still very fired up. I've said it a thousand times before, that show was like going to church. I've never been in a crowd that was SO with the band. Though the show was relatively simple - no enormous screens yet - it was the single best concert experience I've ever had.

April '92 at Pacific Coliseum. I still have the concert shirt. December wore it this past week to the latest concert. It was the last show of the Achtung Baby tour - which was the first leg of what was to turn into the ZooTV Tour. It was in effect the practise tour for ZooTV - they came back to Vancouver again for ZooTV. The Pixies opened for then (and were terrible... but they played the Commodore Ballroom the next night and promptly broke up... so I guess they were "good" for a band who hated each other.) Meanwhile the practise run was in full-bloom and it was a technical marvel the likes of which had never been seen. It was amazing. The overload of ideas and technology directly influenced the next Juanabees tour. Absolutely in the top 5 concerts I've ever seen.

May '15 (Only 3 days short of two years before this past concert.) The second night of The Innocence + Experience Tour. The technical aspects of this show were the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Totally amazing. The band were beginning to show the effect of being in their 50s and that stuck out to me more than I wish it did.  They were STILL great, but let's just say that Bono was long past his days of hanging off the balcony rail. As much as I enjoyed the show I did ask myself if I would ever see them again, as I'm not keen of watching them age past being the consummate rock stars of my youth. Also one of the top 5 concerts ever.

When the Joshua Tree 30 year Anniversary tour was announced and Mumford & Sons were announced as the opener, I knew what my last U2 show had to be. Mumford is a favourite of my daughter, and Joshua Tree is my all time desert island disc. It had to be her first concert and my last (U2) concert. The symmetry was too good.

As much as I want to try to put aside the venue issues (which did not directly effect me) it is hard to ignore the effect it has on a crowd as a whole. Certainly if I am going to credit the energy that the emotional perfect storm stirred in the crowd in 1987, I can't simply discredit the effect of having a third of your crowd angry before they got to their places in the stadium.  I also have to acknowledge that there is an effect of 30 years upon the audience. We've long since past the point where there the energy level of the audience is divided by those who stand for the whole show and those who stand only for the great songs. We are now at the point where the divisor is those who stand for the great songs and those who sit for the whole show. For the record - I stood for almost the whole thing - including absolutely all of the pre-encore set.

Looking at the set-up for the show it appeared at a glance as though the show was going to be less tech-heavy than the concerts since Achtung Baby, but not stripped down as far as the original tour. The poetry scrolling up the stage left side of the screen was a give-away that the backdrop was not as inert as it looked like in passing. There was also the now ubiquitous presence of the second stage which was not present in '87  (Also an Achtung Baby innovation). 

It was hard not to be disappointed by Mumford and Sons. From where we were the portion of the screen where the band was projected was almost entirely obscured by a PA & lighting tower. This had the added effect of making me fear that the only portion of the back drop that would feature the feature act would also be obscured. Spoiler alert - it wasn't. But that in itself caused frustration - knowing in retrospect that the support act COULD have been shown on both sides of the stage. But instead we were forced to choose between watching Marcus Mumford's elbow in high definition at twice his standing height, or the actual Marcus Mumford... was that him?... it was hard to tell from our distance.

All these complaints aside... the reverence that Mumford has for U2 - a respect that caused a genuine headlining act to want to open for their heroes - was clearly defined by the glowing words used to express their gratitude. I probably only really know four Mumford songs well - they played all four of them and my six year old daughter was delighted to sing along - for once allowed to sing the F-word lyric in Little Lion Man. While there would not have been a big difference for us whether Mumford was really in the building playing or if they had just put some cut-outs on guide tracks on stage and played the album tracks, it was still great to share those songs live and dance with my kid. But this was truly just a warm up.

And that brings us to U2...

There is a mixed bag of good and less good to follow, and I am going to do the band and show a disservice by focusing mostly on the good first, while ending largely with my criticisms, but I want to start by saying something I've already said: This was a really good concert. U2 suffers by being measured against their own success. All three of my previous U2 shows rank in my top five all time concerts - they have made themselves a hard act to follow as I inevitably grade them on a different scale from almost anyone else. By being quite possibly the best arena/stadium act of all time (and definitely in the conversation about the subject) its almost inevitable that they would disappoint... and you could even argue that they always have after that first show took my number one all time spot and held onto it for (presumably) the rest of my life. But this show definitely makes my top ten concerts of all time and I have a bag filled with literally hundreds of event tickets I've saved up since the mid 80s.

So... what did I love?

The opening was great. Simple, but great. Building the presence of the band up one piece at a time - making me think of Stop Making Sense (John Demme, only having just passed away, reinforcing the idea for me) but accelerated over the opening of a single song.  My kid's favourite U2 song is Sunday Bloody Sunday, so both of the night's acts blew their wad for her in their second and first songs respectively, but it was great to be able to sing along with her from the outset of the show.

I appreciated the structure of the show as a whole (but will get into quibbles in the second half of this), putting the songs from before the Joshua Tree first - a quick primer on "how we got to the Tree" - then the main attraction - then encoring with songs that followed their most significant album.

A Sort of Homecoming may have actually been the highlight of the show for me. I kind of forgot just how much I love that song (which they haven't played live for over a decade and a half).

I also really enjoyed the transition from the Pride into The Joshua Tree. Simple. Using the full length of the screen behind them to mimic the set-up of the original opening. Where the original used a giant cyclorama washed in red lights over a silhouetted Joshua Tree, the update used the (biggest high-definition single panel) screen to similar effect while the band gathered under the  outstretched arms of a pin-lit tree while the opening sequence of Where the Streets Have No Name informed the audience - if they had not yet figured it out - that we were about to begin our journey through a re-invented version of one of the greatest albums in the history of rock and roll.

That screen... wow.  Gorgeous... even if they seemed to be working a few bugs out of it - entire sections dropping out for several frames at a time. The vivid colour and the enormous seamless size of it... awesome. And relatively simple, given the shows U2 had staged in the past. The images they put up there... I am less excited about. While they were all visually arresting, the curation of them left me wanting... but I'll come back to that - because right now, I'm my emotional self who could not sit for as much as a note of the next eleven songs. Singing along with my kid and her Mom and her cousin - I think the only words I missed were those Bono had changed sing pressing vinyl. I appreciated an additional nod to the original tour in Bullet the Blue Sky wherein Bono revisited the hand-held lighting instrument lazzi seen in Rattle and Hum. The lady behind us was moved by my daughter climbing up into my arms for Running to Stand Still (a song I've used as a lullaby on many nights) and took a photo of us - not a great photo, but it will stake down that corner in my memory forever.

Those first five songs - side one - could hardly fail and they didn't. Flip the cassette and get into side two and things get a bit more challenging. The band had never played Red Hill Mining Town live before that night - so what were they going to do? This is where the reinvention was most evident - bringing the horns into the fore (both audibly and visually). While I doubt the song is suddenly going to take over as one of their concert classics, it felt like a small honour to be there when it finally debuted. 

The next three tracks are the best that side two has to offer (IMHO In God's Country would be at home with the quality of the side one tracks). I doubt there were many casual U2 fans in the crowd - so the energy lost on the last two (and arguably least beloved) album cuts ought to have been relatively minor, this was after all what we came for. Bono squeezed in a costume change during an interstitial video clip (which I'll get back to) in order to visually quote the look he wore back in the late 80s - a black-broad brimmed hat and his glasses now absent while channeling his Mirror Ball Man preacher alter-ego from ZooTV. Exit's nearly impenetrable mid-song guitar bombast has grown over the years for me and Edge does a good job of representing in concert what he achieved with 48 tracks in a studio. Mother's of the Disappeared is Exit's tonal negative and more wound-down the experience than sent it off... but that is how the album is structured, so what can you do?

The encore was, by almost any standard, the performance's primary weakness. Bringing the energy back with Beautiful Day and Elevation was the right move (except... read on later), but then things kind of go a bit pear shaped energy-wise.  Ultraviolet and One are both excellent songs in their own right, and the band has managed to get WAY more mileage out of Miss Sarajevo than can be believed, but the three of them together combined with an above average concentration of Bonostheletizing took the concert into a late-show sombre space that it never clawed its way out of. Bono's attempt to incite the audience into a chant that was both melodically and verbally more complex than could be pulled off by 50k people struck as being a combination of a mis-read of the crowd's engagement and (more so) their ability... which the front man of a band that has mastered the art of the stadium show should have long since figured out.

Before the show I had wondered if we might be treated to a road test of a song from the upcoming album and the good news was we were! The bad news was that it was another down-tempo song. The good news was that it picked up energy a bit by the end. The bad news was that it STILL wasn't enough energy... and that was the LAST SONG OF THE NIGHT!  Structurally, I "get" it. We went from what had come before the Joshua Tree to the album itself to the songs that followed and then ended with the future yet to come - conceptually it works... but the implementation just can't stick the landing - certainly not with that song. Ironic that they plan to call the upcoming album Songs from Experience, 'cause that felt like a rookie mistake.

Which leads me to my biggest complaint outside of the energy of the back end of the encore... The set list is broken - which happens to be a direct cause of the energy issue. But it also breaks it's own unity. The entire show is in chronological order - except for Beautiful Day and Elevation. I appreciate that they need high energy songs coming out of Mothers of the Disappeared (which makes me ask the question 'why did they realise that, yet blow the last four songs?') but there are answers to that which don't betray the unity of chronological order.  Come back for the encore with Even Better Than the Real Thing or Mysterious Ways - or both or do Desire then one of the above. Give us One and Ultraviolet as part of the Achtung Baby segment and put Beautiful Day and Elevation next to last - then we will probably not blink at the relative let down of The Little Things that Give You Away... and if that is still an issue either pick a better new song to go out on, or go full circle by closing with an original hit - either I Will Follow or Out of Control. (NOTE: In Seattle two nights later they did end with I Will Follow.) That adds three more songs to the set list, so something probably has to go - Miss Sarajevo, your time has come - I'd consider axing one of either Ultraviolet or One as well. (Though that would rob Bono and the boys their standard moments to speak up for refugees, women's rights, and HIV respectively if all three of the sombre songs were cut. Some people would think this a plus. I speak simply of the benefits the performance of the show would get from it - I accept that the political side of U2 is part of the territory and its part of why I've liked them since I was a teenager.)

Which leaves me with my quibbles with the imagery on that massive screen. Again its mostly a matter of unity. I'm not terribly fond with how on the nose much of it was... an unending desert highway for Where the Streets Have No Name, a big red moon for One Tree Hill being among the weakest choices. But as a whole the sequence of images set-up a unity which it gradually picked away at until it was absent. Which perhaps was the point - just perhaps. But briefly, first how did it do so?  The opening - once the wall of red that echoed the original tour disappeared - gave us the aforementioned un-ending desert highway which presumably winds through Joshua Tree National Park in California all in black and white. Next song - more of Joshua Tree Park in black and white - as the camera searches... get it? DO YOU GET IT?!?! I Still Haven't Found... more on the nose imagery, though not quite as obvious... quite. But again we have Joshua Tree Park in black and white and a baseline for the unity is set. Next up With or Without You and we have.... more Joshua Tree, but now in saturated colour. A single shot (and a stunning one) taken from dawn to sunset. But now we've let go of the black and white - that's okay, it probably would have got boring soon anyhow and this shot would not have been anywhere near as remarkable without the colour. But the first step down the slippery slope has begun. Bullet the Blue Sky back to black and white, but now its the band with an exciting but extreme post-effect added in real time. Hey - it's the band - of course they are an acceptable image - it's their concert. I'd be mad if we didn't get to see them up on the screen. (And yes, there was more on the screen, but... regardless another step away fro the unity. Later songs - bring us to other desert locations - corrugated shacks with a semi-nekkid rope-trick doin' dancer who simultaneously paints us a US flag; a rather uninspired shot of a Salvation Army horn band presumably playing the horn portion of the new Red Hill arrangement (also in the realm of on the nose - "Hey, here's a visual representation of the thing that now stands out in this song.") That damned "moon is up over One Tree Hill" - GAH!!!  Possibly these were all images from Joshua Tree still? Possibly the additional parts of the park that were used as single covers back in 1987? Certainly from similar landscapes, so that part of the unity remains.... Oh no... wait... For Exit first we break for the costume-change interstitial with footage from (I believe - please correct me if you know better) The Rainmaker... so that pretty much ends that unity - The Rainmaker, taking place in Kansas, MAY have been shot in Joshua Tree, seeing as its that much closer to Hollywood, but is still stretching the unity further... and it breaks entirely at Mothers of the Disappeared - yet another single shot of the eponymous mothers walking slowly forward through roscoe fog (in a controlled environment of a set) with candles... the mothers from Nicaragua and El Salvador as per the song - its... it just doesn't hold any longer no matter how hard I try to maintain an argument for unity.

So... perhaps that is the point. An eroding unity.  The original name for The Joshua Tree album was The Two Americas. They have said that part of their reasoning for re-touring the album was that America has never been more "two" than it is now. So... an eroding unity...? Its a pretty big stretch. I'm more likely to believe that they just made some weak artistic choices. Better no unity than the false promise of one.

One more thing that elevated this experience. The night before the concert I met a British music journalist in a bar and had a great conversation about music, football (soccer), art and of course U2. It seemed to be a mutually enjoyable conversation and that was cemented by him texting me between acts about the show and then the next day wanting to meet for coffee for more debriefing of my post-show perspective as well as the reaction of my kid. He mentioned that he rarely considered the dramaturgical aspects of concerts with the depth that I got into (pretty much everything I said above) and that that was good value for him as well as getting a view from a local who had attended the '87 concert in the same venue. There was the vague promise on the Thursday that he would pass on a "thank" from me to The Edge in an interview he was scheduled for the afternoon of the show, but as it didn't come up on the day after and reading in some subtext around how his day went (including but not limited to: he too had some troubles entering even with a press pass) I suspect the interview did not happen... but I'm going to tell myself that I did have a very short one way discussion with The Edge by proxy.

Now with it all in the rearview, the eleven songs of The Joshua Tree was a magical tribute to the most important album of my life and their career, I will always cherish sharing it all with Jodie and December, I can't get A Sort of Homecoming out of my head, and briefly, I had a new friend who gave me two excellent conversations.  It was a great show.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Enough of "Pence is worse."

There is a regular refrain which springs up from one person or another anytime that any variation of sentiment surrounding Trump's longevity in office, whether that longevity is tied to his own longevity or his will and/or ability to stay in office, and that is that "Pence is worse."
I used to think that might be true. But I am just not buying it anymore.
Mike Pence is hard right conservative and a fundie. Neither of these appeals to my worldview. I cannot imagine I would be a fan of a Pence presidency. But he would have been worse than an imaginary Trump, a Trump we hoped might emerge. The Trump who people on the left who urged on November 9th "to give him a chance" had their fingers crossed would rise from the ashes of a dysfunctional election to show true colors which included turning his back on vast portions of his rhetoric,  and who, being the obviously  inconsistent bag of shit he is, would return to supporting all manner of progressive policies he years prior spoke in favour of.  We got the tiniest sliver of that Trump. He cavalierly ditched his plans to throw Hillary in jail, and then appointed Bannon to his staff and things spiraled into bat-shit from there.
With Mike Pence, there would be a civil human being in the Oval Office. With Mike Pence there would be someone with an understanding and appreciation of the political process. With Mike Pence there would be someone who has read the Constitution in the highest office. With Mike Pence there would be someone who has actually considered the realities of foreign policy and national security and the intelligence community. With Mike Pence there would be someone who considers what he says before he tweets. With Mike Pence, the state of complete assholerry would not be actively normalized and empowered and all over the news demonstrating to our kids that being a childishly self-involved liar is a viable course to ascension.
I see nothing - no policy, no appointment, no process, no dictate - that Pence would clearly make worse choices on.
Fuck WYSIWYG. We saw and we got it. I no longer accept that putting up with the abject incivility of it all is the least of evils.
Mike Pence is still crap. But at least not one is pissing on the crap before they have us eat shit.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Stream of Thought for the Eastside Troopers

Its been a tough month for the troopers. I’m not talking about the police, but the street-level denizens of the DTES. I did a play around the turn of the century (which has since been turned into a Leacock award winning novel) called “City Boy in a Cowboy Town” by Mark Leiren-Young.  In it the impoverished down-and-out inhabitants of the eponymous Cowboy Town are referred to as troopers.  It kinda stuck for me, though no one ever understands what I am talking about. Not the police. The homeless.
I’m supposed to be writing something else at this very moment, but the sirens are far too regular outside right now. That’s a reality of this neighbourhood. The sirens at any time of night every night. Ditto chemically induced screaming, but that is often a different thing entirely. These past few weeks though have been rough.
First off it has been cold. Yeah, I know “rest-of-Canada” our notion of cold is laughable to you. But I grew up in the interior of BC. I know what sub forty weather is like. It has genuinely been cold here. Not sub forty. Not even sub fifteen. But as soon as it is sub zero people are freezing.  You can be hypothermic in temperatures ten degrees above zero. And that is where our warm climate really gets the homeless when we get an extended cold snap. We have the homeless population we have in Vancouver in part because of the warm weather. The homeless gravitate here because it is easier to survive when you don’t have the temperature extremes of the prairie provinces.  So there are more people out there to freeze, and they aren’t as prepared because they don’t usually have to be as prepared. They aren’t as prepared. The city isn’t as prepared. Its hard for either party to justify being prepared for something that happens so infrequently.
I ended up shin deep in a puddle of icy water  this past week. It was awful. Fortunately I was going to be in a warm place for most of the day and would be home to dry socks in a few hours. I can barely imagine not having had that in my immediate future. The degree to which I can imagine it is uncomfortable, to say the least.
And then there is the fentanyl.
I figure its been about a year since I first heard of a fentanyl death – maybe eighteen months. A young couple in North Vancouver – both dead, child left behind. Last week there were nine fatal overdoses in one night. Not all overdoses are fentanyl, but it is very clear that fentanyl is a serious culprit. That really was a night where the sirens never really stopped.  We hear stories in the news about the PTSD that emergency workers are experiencing right now – that they can literally save one person three times in a night.
I somewhat guiltily share this neighbourhood with these people. To some we are an evil – the gentrify-ers living in the buildings above their heads. To others we are a source. To some we are neighbours. I favour the last outlook, but I admit its complicated. Its not what I want to write about it tonight while a war for survival is fought in ear shot of where I sit.
I know these people. Not really well. But I know them. Some of them I know by name. Some I really like. A few really annoy me. Just like in any other social grouping. Except in this case its hard to judge my own motivations cleanly. The troopers who I like are easy to live with. They are also those who I am most likely to help when I can. The ones who annoy me are the ones who probably need help more, but in most cases I can least trust them to use my help productively. (That is code for “I can’t give them money because I am reasonably certain it will be used for drugs, not the food or shelter they claim it is for.”) I see a good number of them at least once a week and it makes me uncomfortable knowing that it inevitably that will end and more than likely it will end in some nearly anonymous tragedy that is already well into its middle act.
One day I will see each of them for the last time. It has happened before. The Push-up Guy. I gave him socks once when his feet were bare and mine were going to be warm at home soon enough. I don’t have much hope that he made it out alive. But he’s been gone for years now.  Ditto the Bad-hair-cut. The homeless aren’t really known for style, but this one… holy smokes – bad hair-cut. But I can’t do it justice and I don’t have a picture and I never will, because she is gone. Odds aren’t good there is a happy ending there either. Abdul. There may be a good ending to that tale. He may really have been a kid from Somalia who just got in a tight spot and was having some trouble getting out. I never saw any sign that he was anything but hungry. I hope he made it somewhere where he can get on with life. But I’ll probably never know.
I do know in a few cases. Troopers whose lives got better. One was a woman who we occasionally took a hot meal to when we had extra. One day she disappeared. She was old enough that it didn’t have to be particularly tragic to have meant she had died. But it turned out it wasn’t. It took about two years. Then one day there she was calling to our daughter from across the street – happy to see her and say ‘hi’ and looking considerably healthier. I wasn’t there, but I’ve been told she had gained some well needed weight and was almost unrecognizable for all the right reasons. Another was the case of someone from back home whose life took a bad turn. Every time I saw them they were a little worse, a little further gone. Then came the day that they walked right past me, not only not aware that the person they were brushing past was someone from “back when” but not aware that there was another soul in arms reach at all. I assumed that was the last time I would see them.  Then, a few years later, on Thanksgiving of all days, they were getting on the train I was getting off of, and a bit of hard living aside they looked as normal as anyone. I did not realize who it was. I was on the platform and the train was pulling away before I realized that my prediction that I would never seem them again was wrong and they had found a way free. These are the good stories.
But there will be lots of bad stories from this past month. It could take me months more before I realize that there are regulars who I don’t see any more and that the last time was before this brutal month.  I can’t even catalogue all the troopers I keep an informal mental tally of. Off the top of my head I can’t even think if there is currently anyone out there whose actual name I know. There’s the Tatted Wheelchair guy. The Friendly 7-11 Lady. The Dignified Spinster. The Disarmingly Honest Schizophrenic. Caucasian Crazy-Eyes. Slick. Hammond (Not his real name… unless by fluke.) Siberia. The One Armed Painter. Piano Man. Throaty Francophone… come to think of it, I haven’t seen her in ages.
There.  Right there. Throaty Francophone. Very annoying, that one. I’m relieved she is gone. But I want her to have got out in a good way. I have my doubts though. She didn’t seem to be trying to get out – like Abdul was. And she seemed too healthy to be catapulted out by hitting rock bottom. But rock bottom is different for everyone, right? And maybe she survived a bad overdose and that was all the wake-up call she needed. Or maybe she thought she was invincible and went too far, or was hooking and things went really really bad. I think we forget that that can still happen here in Vancouver. We got “the guy” so now no prostitutes are ever in any danger. Bull. Shit.
And any awareness we had for sex-workers in danger has been entirely overshadowed by the fentanyl crisis. I don’t even understand this. I admit it. What is the business model that includes selling a product that kills your customers at an alarming rate? Yes, heroin, crack, meth all do the same thing. But WAY less frequently. I really don’t follow how this is beneficial to the dealers cutting it into the supply. Unless I’m getting the metaphor completely wrong. There isn’t a war going on out in the streets of the DTES, the DTES is Birkenau and someone’s got it in their sick mind that fentanyl is the final solution. I feel a little dirty having even suggested it, but at least there is a logic there that makes some grotesque sense. If someone really wanted to clean up the “worst of the worst” of the Eastside, this would from a certain perspective help.
There’s the sirens again. Another trooper in trouble. Which of my neighbours this time? How long before I notice?

Take care out there. Good luck. May you find a good way out soon.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

VOTE Dammit!

I know that my own audience who can actually act upon this is small. The majority of people who read what I post do not have votes in the US election. But I suppose I know a lot of people who know people who can vote in the US election, so... I'll make this one final plea.

Barring any huge changes in the state of things, this is going to be the last thing of any substance I'm going to post beyond some possible snark and observation on Election Day. It's NaNoWroMo and I am 6000+ words in and don't have time to be writing this - except I couldn't live with myself if I didn't say it all one last time in as clear terms as I could muster.

I'm also aware that the majority of people I can reach with this already agree with me, so for the most part I'm shouting into the echo-chamber - but if there is any chance that my words influence anyone, I want to have put my words out there.

1) VOTE!  If you can vote on Tuesday, VOTE ON TUESDAY (or before, if you haven't already). Not voting is totally fucking childish. You have a vote. You have a stake in the result. Cynical "my vote doesn't count" is complete bullshit. I live in an area that ALWAYS votes the same way. ALWAYS. My vote counts. Because things change, and one day this area will vote a different way, and my vote now can support that change by showing it is possible - or it can reinforce the status quo if things are as contentious as they were in the last Canadian election (pretty much exactly a year ago) and safeguard against an unwanted result. So vote. Children below the age of majority don't have a vote. Don't be childish. Fucking vote. You don't get to live in a world where this goes the wrong way (however you define that) and you haven't voted and you get to righteously decry how it all went wrong - because YOU DIDN'T DO A GOD DAMNED THING ABOUT IT, even if you think it was just a token. In theory one electoral district could sway the whole thing and if it was yours and the difference was a (for example) just a few hundred votes (ahem, Florida, Nov, 2000) YOUR non-vote coupled with a bunch of lazy like-minded people just like you, made a difference, and there are ZERO bragging rights attached to inaction. VOTE!

2) DON'T VOTE THIRD PARTY.  I get it. The two party political duopoly is broken. You are absolutely right. And your moral high ground is noted. But your moral high ground is built upon a hill of wax and when the wrong side wins because you voted third party, and the whole country bursts into flames of ire, fear and hatred (assuming you don't believe that has already happened) your moral high-ground is going to melt into a sticky mess. Pick a real side, for Pete's sake! Only Hillary or Donald will be President on January 20th. Not Gary. Not Jill. Not Bernie by write in. Evan McMullin has a theoretical chance, but it's just theoretical. Non-zero. But really the possibility that he could win is just a gedanken-experiment that political analysts play for fun, ' cause "headlines."
I know you are disaffected and you think both the other candidates are as bad as one another. (They aren't - see #3 below.) I know you are tired of the status quo. I got it. I heard it. I am even with you for the most part... except one critical thing... NONE of the options other than the nominees of the two major parties are actually going to win, so don't waste your vote. Its practically as bad as not voting. No. I take that back. It's worse, 'cause you actually got to the polls and then wilfully did something asinine.
"But how will the third parties (the fact that that is plural is hilarious and just goes to show how ineffectual the alternate options are) ever get enough traction to compete, if we don't vote for them for realz in a Federal election?" Well for starters - this simply isn't the year. It's not. And not because this election is "soooo" historic - I'd have said that for each of the last four elections too, and at this point imagine I will in 2020. But because the foundation has not been set. The third parties need to work from the small up. You get traction locally. Then Statewide. THEN Federally. Here's the bad news - it takes a long time. I am pretty confident that I will never see a real third party in a US election. It took the NDP from before I was born until 2011 to get so far as being the official opposition in Canada. Our "fourth" party in Canada has been at it since I was 13 and has won ONE SEAT in the House of Commons in Ottawa. It grew from 11 independent candidates in Atlantic Canada with common ideals to the fledgling Federal actor it is today.  If you want a third party to bloom, it takes time, and it has to build up to relevance from small winnable contests before it can legitimately challenge for the title. Sorry. It would be great if reality was different. But this isn't the year. Go out and run locally under the third party banner of your choice in 2018 if you want to see that change. But vote Democrat (or Republican) on November 8th 2016, 'cause when you get right down to it, you DO care which of the real options prevail.

3) Vote for Clinton. You probably are voting for Clinton if you can vote and are reading this. SO, feel free to stop here. If you are voting for Trump... please work through the following... (but you won't because, I just might say something that clashes with your dearly held position and makes you uncomfortable.)

  1. Are you rich and have your ability to get richer at the top of your "must haves" list when picking a candidate? Well, go fucking vote Trump then. I still think you are making a mistake. I imagine that you are making a mistake if you game-out the long-haul, but who am I kidding, you aren't listening to me anyway.
  2. Are you any one or more of: homophobic, racist, misogynist, war-mongering, or sociopathic? No? Then you have no reason to vote for Trump. Just stop it.
  3. "Second amendment, YAR!" Your guns are safe... or rather... your guns aren't going to be taken away from you, no matter who you vote for. Really. REALLY. But let's talk about the second amendment in more detail next week, okay? Go vote for Hillary.
  4. You think Clinton is worse than Trump, no matter what he is. Okay... I know it is really late in the game to be working this angle, because none of us have much time, do we? And there is SO much to unpack here. But seriously. Take your pet argument and its reasonable counter argument and go and look at the facts. Don't take the word of either candidate as gospel. Identify any element of the argument where the two sides disagree and do some hard Googling. Google keywords about the argument. Add "pro" and "con" and "debunk" and "fact" and "explained" and "Republican" and "Democrat" to the key word searches (separately) and read more than one article on BOTH sides of the debate. If you see an article that opposes your view - definitely read that one. If articles don't provide specific references to verifiable facts, then give them less weight than those that do. (Way less, honestly.) Sleep on it all. If you still think Hillary is worse than Trump, I'm going to want to rescind point number one above about voting... but I have integrity. If you are thinking maybe there is something to the alternate viewpoint - take your second favourite argument and see how the facts stack up.
  5. You aren't racist. You aren't a misogynist. You aren't a homophobe. But the US is going to hell in a hand-basket and Donald is the first candidate who is really saying it like it is. Look. This is going to be hard to hear, but he is taking advantage of you. He is. He is saying exactly what you want to hear. He is playing upon your fears (and other emotions) without any regard for reality. He is inciting you to look at everything in your life that you aren't happy with and he is blaming it on other people and promising he can fix it without saying how. "He has plans. Big plans." But what are they? You can't tell me that. "He's going to deport all the illegal immigrants." Well, that is what he says... but how does he plan to do that? You don't have to go far along his intended course of action before things become vague and unformed and unactionable. He has no interest in you. He only has interest in his own empire and the next step in building it even bigger is to be President, so he can tweak the laws further in favor of him and his kind - who have been preying on you for generations. He is turning you against people who have been preyed upon even harder than you, making you think they are the problem, when they are being victimised by him and his sort just like you. He wants you to blame someone other than him, so he shouts that he can fix the problem and points at people not too different from yourself and claims they are at fault. AND then whenever he can get away with it, he tells them similar things. He has claimed that things will be better in the United States for various minorities under his Presidency and then told other groups of people how those minorities are the ones to blame for how shitty things are. For starters, things aren't half as shitty as you imagine they are - I know that's hard to believe, but just watch a few YouTube videos about life in Guatemala or Mogadishu or Mosul or Bangladesh or really, most of the places on the planet that aren't North America, Western Europe, Japan or a handful of highly functioning metropolises scattered elsewhere on the globe. America is totally great. Still and already. And yeah, it could be better, but not by making it worse for the people below you. That is only going to make America a contemptuous place inside and out.
Donald Trump, is probably the vilest human being who has ever been this close to being your President, and that bar is so low to the ground that its almost impossible to fit under it, yet he does. It's too easy to invoke the names of some of the objectively worst leaders in the history of mankind and go Godwin on Trump, but the reality is that it is hard to exaggerate how awful he is without doing so.


I assure you that if you do, we - the REST OF THE PLANET - are finished with America as the accepted beacon of hope and light and the global leader of what human civilization can aspire towards. Honestly, you may not easily be able to undo the damage you have done in that direction already. The world may well have passed "Peak 'Merica," it is certainly worth debate, but if Trump is in the White House, the debate is over, you will have, with irony, made a mockery of everything that was ever truly great about the United States.
So vote for imperfect, not-a-criminal, well-prepared-with-a-staggering-amount-of-relevant-experience, first-female-to-hold-the-position, Hillary. And if that is not "good-enough," then get to work on Bernie 2.0 or Paul Ryan back-to-the-GOP-log-house or Jill Stein for Massachusetts' 5th Congressional District 2020, or whatever your version "better future" is.

Friday, August 19, 2016


It is upon us. No dress rehearsal - this is our life. One more show to go. Just over 24 hours away. The band united a nation. First, slowly over the course of years of faithful commitment to the True North, and then again underlining it these past few months since we first heard the news, in one long concert event that has reached across the country and by the end of Saturday night will have gone around the globe. The band has reached an end that took thirty years to arrive at.

It may be true that not every Canadian is a fan of the Hip, but that fact that so very many of us are and that so many of those are snarling mad for them more than make up for those who yawn. So many of us won over throughout the years (I can walk you to the place in my hometown where I heard Small Town Bringdown when it first came out. Yea, I've been here all along.) All our home towns were cryptically being sung of then, and again over and over through the years. They shot a movie once, in my hometown, it's where I saw the Constellations pushing around a weathervane Jesus while stranded at the Unique Motel. Gord Downie managed to speak specifically to and of all of us.

This goodbye has been so unusual – unique even. Bands have broken up before. Musicians have died. Great things have come to an end because of tragedy and illness. But how many times have an artist’s fans been gifted with a farewell like this? How many times have the artists been gifted with it? Bowie – he knew what was coming and he made it art, but none of us knew what it was all about until he was gone. And we never got a chance to say goodbye. Prince – just gone. Even Spirit of the West… while close in essence… they didn’t fill arenas and there was no last great work – the magnitude was not there, and though I did not get to see any of those last shows, it sounds as though off-stage John Mann had already lost much of himself (which is heart-breaking). But in this case, Gord (and the rest of the fellows too, but let’s face it, their tragedy is that after thirty years of being the ‘other guys’ in Gord Downie’s band, they end has really – understandably - been ALL about him facing his final bow) has also been given this gift. 

I was fortunate to get to see them on the second night of the tour – the first of the two Vancouver shows. It wasn’t the best concert I’ve ever seen, nor the best Hip concert I’d ever seen (Tie: Canada Day 1992, Thunderbird Stadium or November(ish) 1993 Royal Theatre, Victoria – too hard to call.) but I have no doubt it is the one that I will remember the most. There is a moment – a very long moment – that will probably be the single most memorable concert moment of my life (and hey, I saw U2 right after the Enniskillen bombing). Grace, Too was the last song of the main set and there was a point where Gord stopped and looked out at the crowd where a look came over his face….  It went on for probably half a minute. I think we can safely say that Gord Downie was not known for his emotional honesty. Which is not to say that he was a disingenuous performer exactly, but that his style was (and for one more night, IS) a weird fantasy world of mime performed to dense, sung poetry and surreal monologues. Whether he had entered the persona of a doomed sailor, or an ill-fated pool-cleaner or half of a Canadian Bonnie & Clyde, or any of the thousand other characters from tales he vaguely told in a thousand different concerts, he was rarely showing us what Gord Downie himself felt. But not in this moment. He took in the crowd. Appreciative of them and appreciative of the moment. Appreciative of the place in our country’s history he has been given. A place he built out of a thousand pieces of the obscure Canadiana he appreciated. He wasn’t saying “thank you.” He was just being with us for a moment, knowing that all the tiny pieces like this one – that each we had taken for granted as they past had added up to something bigger and this moment embodied it. His part in our collective history, mirroring the impact of his career. Obviously, I don’t know what he was thinking in that moment – but that’s what I took away. Then the moment passed and the mime returned, hitting balls and throwing javelins into the crowd – shining a microphone-shaped flashlight out into the dark….

The moment in question occurs shortly after 2:45 - but you're going to watch the whole thing, right?

I’m trying hard not to put expectations upon tomorrow’s show. I'll watch the CBC broadcast from Kingston in the Woodward's Atrium - practically home. I’m going because it’s the last. I’m going because it is something that Canadians across the world will be sharing.  (For two hours or so, we will collectively quit paying attention to the Olympics. This band means a lot to Canada.) I’m going because I can share it with Jodie and December. (The former isn’t a Hip fan, but understands the importance. The latter doesn’t really even know the Hip yet, but someday I hope she will look back and recognize that the event was significant to me and that she was glad to have shared that.)  I do expect they will do the same thing they’ve done across the country where they spend the first half hour playing to each other, all but ignoring the audience – which is a tremendously powerful statement of brotherhood. I expect the crowd will sing along to even the most obscure of tracks. I expect I’ll cry before its over – hell, I’ve been crying intermittently about it being over since May.

And yes, Gord, you were always right. We will miss you. None of this “wait and you’ll see” bullshit. We will. Fully. And Completely.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Highest Office

Good morning Padawan.

By the time you read this, it will be old news. In fact it was practically old news by the time it happened. Yesterday something pretty amazing happened. Something that was a foregone conclusion by the time it happened. But something that had taken far longer to happen than it rightfully should have.* For the first time in history a woman was nominated to run for the President of the United States.**
It didn't happen here. Canada has already had a woman as Prime Minister, but we have yet to have a woman lead a party to victory, so we ourselves have some ground to cover. But the US is not only our (get ready for a few cliches) the big dog in the yard and our closest ally, but also totally fascinating - and fascinated with itself, so its hard to ignore. For all its myriad failures, it does get a lot of things right... or it least it has been - we shall see what happens in November.
Come November we will be witness to one of two things - either a woman will be President of the US for the first time, and that is pretty exciting; or the most objectionable candidate ever*** will be in office and while I don't want to be one of the historical cycle of sirens of the end-times who think the Golden Years are behind us, if Donald Trump becomes President, things are sure going to get interesting and while its likely to be entertaining, it isn't likely to be the sort of entertainment the world wants.
I really want to believe in this moment in our better angels. I want a world for you where you can reflect back on the day your Dad told you that this amazing moment in history had just happened and how it meant nothing to you at the time, and that though you hardly recall what it was like before you are so blessed to live in a true Golden Era where the bounds of equality are more inclusive than any generation before, where you, as a woman know no limits to what you may achieve. Where the men at your elbows are friends and colleagues and equals and no-one bears a false imprimatur of value based upon birthright of any measure.

Anyway... when you read this in whatever future manifests, the day I just spoke of - that was yesterday for me.

Love Dada.

*Note that Hillary Clinton losing the Democratic nomination in '08 should not be considered a social failure. Everything that was lost in women's causes was gained and more by people of colour.

**I acknowledge that other women have been in contention in the past as Vice-Presidential candidates, running for nomination without achieving it and running as nominees of parties that are politically irrelevant in terms of their ability to launch a campaign with any (let alone realistic) chance of success. Being didactic about this diminishes the impact of the actual achievement, I don't want to delve any further into it at this point.

***Yup, even more so than Nixon - his pinnacle of vilification came after he was elected.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Gord Full Stop

“It makes no sense how it makes no sense.”
                Blow at High Dough – from Up to Here

You pretty much have to be Canadian to know that 2016 has struck again.
This morning the news hit my generation of Canadians like the Rogers Pass avalanche. (The only way to do this right has to include a few obscure pieces of Canadiana.) Gord Downie has terminal brain cancer - a glioblastoma.
He isn’t gone yet. But I have to process this now. Forgive me for eulogizing him prematurely. I can’t do this twice.
You may have to have hit adulthood in the late 80s or early 90s above the 49th parallel for this to be true, but for those of us who did, this is Prince. This is Bowie. This is one assholebastardmutherfucker of a year.

“There’s more worms than earth in the afterlife.”
                Leave – from In Violet Light

I’ve lost track of how I ended up being the harbinger, but it has become a bit of a sick joke among friends that this is all my fault. I suspect that I wake up early enough that I am the first one tapped into the news cycle… although Jodie has actually been the one breaking the news to me on most of these things.  Lemmy (three days short of 2016), Bowie, Prince, very nearly Sinead O’Connor (and don’t begin to think that drama is over yet) as well as a long list of diminishingly relevant supporting cast from Glenn Frey (who touched our generation, but was really a luminary of an earlier time) to John Berry – the Beastie Boys’ Pete Best, to Phife Dawg… the depth of my rap and hip hop cred is admittedly shallow. It has escaped few people that 2016 has it out for our music idols.  In Canada we’ve already faced the farewell tour of Spirit of the West, as John Mann cannot carry on due to early on-set Alzheimers, and now we are awaiting dates for the final Tragically Hip tour. I will try to be there. But I’m going to be a complete mess.
Both Bowie and Prince hit me. Bowie comes a hair short of making my list of artists I think can do no wrong, and is responsible for one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. Prince, I never loved, but I always appreciated and I respect his impact on the music world.  I didn’t cry for either of them.  But this morning I wasn’t surprised when a few minutes after getting the news I felt the tears well up in my eyes.
As 2016 cut swathes through pop-culture I was holding my breath and crossing my fingers that at least my top three would get through unscathed. But that hope is gone now. (U2 & Pearl Jam, to answer the associated question.)

“Get Ry Cooder to sing my eulogy.”
                At the 100th Meridian – from Fully Completely

I could take you to within yards of where I was when I heard my first Tragically Hip song. I was listening to the radio on my way to a friend’s house.  The DJ had some blah blah about a new Canadian band out of Kingston and then Small Town Bringdown was unleashed upon my future. A few years later, playing in a band myself, our bassist suggested that we should play Blow at High Dough from “this new band” he’d heard of. I was delighted that The Hip weren’t yet another of the long list of bands that hit my radar once and then disappeared.
When I was touring in the early 90s with the Juanabees, The Hip were always in high rotation and we did our best to convert non-Canadians to the church of Gord – his bizarre mid-song sermons of fractured thought.  “I’m wearin’ my red shirt!” he told us on Canada Day in 1992, as he went on to muse about whether he should burn it there on the stage or save it for the next 25 year benchmark of Confederation. It looks like he should have burned it. That concert – their third in that day as they played coast to coast – still stands as one of the greatest I’ve ever seen. We had been in the sun all day and The Hip were probably the 10th or 12th act of the day, but everyone in that stadium found the reserves to give every joule of energy put out by the band right back to them ten-fold. It was a revival.

“God has left the museum for good.”
                Scared – from Day for Night

The band behind him was – is – a highly functioning rock and roll unit, and it is unfair as it is inevitable to diminish their contributions. Despite the fact that they were all better raw musicians than Gord, The Hip were nothing without him.  It wasn’t just his riveting stage antics that did it.  While he wasn’t the greatest vocalist, indeed some of his cliché embellishments were kind of mock-worthy (E.g. By 1994, his penchant for hopping up an octave on the last syllable of a line was boringly predictable… fortunately he out grew that one.), his lyrics made him an unofficial poet-laureate of Canada. Each song was a perfectly crafted puzzle – always with enough clear intent to invite you to glean more, but every one with enough depth and obscure reference as to be tantalizingly out of reach.  And every now and then he would succinctly encapsule a universal feeling with hideous economy that could strike me to the core.  Never was this more the case for me personally than with the last line of “Ahead By a Century.”  By now I’ve forgotten what exactly was going on in my life that made it so pertinent, but on the very first listen that line – “Disappointing you is getting me down” – tore into my present with the violence of the Lac Megantic explosion. I was in tears before the final chord faded.

“Did I read it all wrong? Or have I just not gotten it yet?”
                Bring it All Back – from Road Apples

More than that though, over the course of his thirty years in the spotlight, Gord focussed his own eye repeatedly on a number of subjects that recurred throughout his poetry that seemed to tie together his work into some kind of tangled unity. Numerous Hip songs make reference to any number of nautical mishaps either in process (Nautical Disaster) or in the narrator’s past (Fiddler’s Green), with varying levels of direct (The Dire Wolf) and oblique (Locked in the Trunk of a Car) reference.  The same goes with crime – usually lurid, often Canadian;  Hockey – Gord was a goalie of accomplishment… at least at the Juno Cup; and of course more diabolically dysfunctional relationships than any lifetime has time for. But throughout it all it was unabashedly Canadian. Canadian in a manner that not only defined his style, but also in a manner that could mark something as Canadian by right of having fallen under his gaze. He loved Canada and he became a singular part of Canadian culture.

“Heaven is a better place today because of this. But the world is just not the same.”
                Heaven is a better place today – from In Between Evolution

I saw them 5 or maybe 6 times. It would have been more if not that by some frustrating bit of fate The Juanabees tour was always travelling West when the Another Roadside Attraction Tour was travelling East. Without fail we would play Winnipeg while they were in Saskatoon and two days later we would have switched places. I'm not sure I'll handle it well if I go to this last tour, and maybe it would be best if I don't. But if the opportunity presents itself, I don't think I can afford to not see them one last time.

"Those melodies come back to me. Time beyond our heartbeat."
                Escape is at Hand for the Travellin' Man – from Phantom Power

We have one last album. Man. Machine. Poem. Its due in a few weeks. Even the title scares me, like once again he has said more in three words about one idea than I can express in several pages of rambling. Of course he is much closer to whatever thought processes face the terminally ill. I feel like there are emotional hand-grenades destined to be hidden in there - little windows into his mind as he faces the event horizon of life. And we all know he is capable of expressing those ideas in ways that will fascinate, confuse and devastate. I eagerly want to tear into it, but I've avoided the pre-release single. I didn't have a reason before now. I don't want to face the reality that it is the end.

"When the birds can be heard above the reckoning carts doing some final accounting."
                Poets - From Phantom Power


Sunday, November 08, 2015

Remembrance Day Musings on Lieutenant-Colonel Harjit Sajjan, Minster of National Defence - Guest Post by C. Scott John

(Note I realize this is almost impossible to read on mobile - I'm working on that, though Blogger is NOT behaving.)

A good friend of mine posted a really fantastic reflection about his experiences in the military reflected in the light of Harjit Sajjan being named Minister of National Defence. Scott entered the military at the same time as Sajjan (as is outlined below) and had some experience with Sajjan over their years of service.  I'll let Scott fill in the details.
Scott posted this on Facebook and it immediately had a response from people that they would like to share it - I heartily agree, and thus I am doing my part here with permission of the author.

Over to Scott... 

My semi-regular Remembrance Day musings ( I know I am early, but I have toddlers so have to take advantage of any free time I have).
I am thinking of current affairs this year. I am sure everyone has heard of Harjit Sajjan being appointed as Minister of National Defence. 
While I certainly can't claim to really know him on a personal level, I met and had conversations with him on a professional basis quite a number of times.
I joined the military at the same time and place he did,1989 in Vancouver and was able to bear some witness to his experiences firsthand. The community of soldiers in Vancouver was and is quite small and most of us knew each other to some extent.
It might be shocking to think that at that time turbans were not allowed in the RCMP and were effectively unheard of in the military. Even years later, Sikhs were not even allowed to enter Canadian Legions because of a rule insisting that they had to remove their headdress. He would have been allowed to march in the Remembrance Day parade and attend festivities which almost certainly terminated at a Legion, but not come and sit with his colleagues for the many hours of stories and celebrations afterwards (even if he didn't drink alcohol). I wish I could sit down and ask him about how it felt for him on that most important of days for a soldier to feel unwelcome and excluded from the camaraderie of those who had donned a uniform.. Was there a place for him where he was welcomed in those early days? I hope so.
The Forces at the time were not exactly bastions of individual liberty that embraced uniqueness. Heck, it took a decade to convince them that my desire to have a left handed holster for my pistol (which as a Military Police officer could have been the difference between life and death) wasn't just me wanting to disrupt good order and discipline. Even then I had to go buy it myself as it would have been unseemly to actually issue me one.
Minister Sajjan was one of the first to test those rules and the institutional intolerance and racism. I have heard that he was refused from one army regiment before he was "allowed" to join another.
His being allowed to wear a turban with his uniform was big news in every mess around the area, and universally decried as offensive. Comments ranged from mere condemnation of him not wanting to be "like us"... all the way to threats of violence.
I wish I could say I was a bigger defender of his rights, I largely ignored it as just talk. The only time I remember calling someone on their crap was when someone was making the comments that it was unsafe to allow him to serve because he couldn't wear a gas mask and helmet... I recall shrugging my shoulders and saying that they have somehow managed in the Indian and British armies for the last couple hundred years.
My first impression of him as a young officer (I don't recall having spoken with him before he was commissioned) was that he was cold and unfriendly... as an MP that wasn't too odd of a reaction to my presence so it never really occurred to me that it could have been a result of battling daily against near universal disdain for his turban from low level soldiers, all the way up the chain of command to the most senior officers.
As time passed, it seemed like everyone just got used to seeing him, though in my own experience I didn't see a lot of overt acceptance... I wasn't a part of his regiment and left the military in 2005, so I only have an observer's perspective. I can only assume that within his own unit, he more quickly just became another soldier to be judged on his merits.
Fast forward to a few days ago. He was appointed as the Minister responsible for the entire Canadian Military (what the hell did I do with my life if we both started at the same time and he managed that).
I have many friends who served in the military and belong to a number of veteran related groups. The response to his appointment has been effectively universally hailed as a major victory by soldiers of all political persuasions. One of "us" (an actual soldier) was now in charge. ONE OF US... let that resonate a little.
In my own experience, I can tie a thread from my first days in the military where he was considered an unwelcome anomaly... all the way to him being lauded as a standard bearer for all soldiers.
I feel like I was a witness to history, something that will or should be in textbooks for students to learn in every high school social studies class.
I think it is important to remember that some of these battles are recent, some yet to even be fought. At the same time I amazed at how far we have come in my own time. While it may seem to be glacially-paced to those living it, in the perspective of history it will be considered to have happened at lightning speed... within the arc of a single man's career. 
This Remembrance Day I will be scanning the faces of the soldiers walking by on parade and will be paying special attention to the various colours of skin, diversity, and whether there are a few more turbans on the heads of young Sikh warriors. I will see it as a trail blazoned by pioneers such as Minister Sajjan and others. I will stand a little straighter in my own uniform because of it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Brought to you by the number 'X.'

What were we thinking?
They self-identified as “monsters” and we just let them lull us into a state of complacency over fifty years.
Yeah, its all clear in hindsight, but now we are totally ‘F’-ed.
All the “furry, blue and cute too” was all an act and we just fell for the inclusivity gambit hook, line and sinker.
The roommate bought in on that hilarious cookie-diet (didn’t we all?) and ended up paying the price for his blind faith in the benign nature of baked goods. Flesh. THAT is what they truly wanted, and that is what they got.
I have to wonder if maybe they hadn’t culled the herd a bit in the past. Just given themselves a preview of the sweet meat to come. After all, where did those first two grocers go? Or the land lady’s first husband? Or that deaf chick.I can just see it - a garbage can sneaking up behind her one mid-summer night. Nice quiet midnight snack.
When they finally decided that the word of the day was “feeding-frenzy,” (A beautiful day for them.), you would have thought that the sheer amount of meat on that bird or the damned mammoth would have slowed them down, but no.... Too damned many of them living amongst us. Too many of us making the final mistake of trusting a friendly invite to tickle.
So few of us left.
Holed up in the castle for now. Our host keeping a careful tally of who is still alive and encouraging us to get one good night’s sleep so we have strength to co-operate for the siege to follow.
I should sleep too. He swears he won’t rest until we are all asleep. He promises he won’t even stop for a drink until we are all at rest.
I’m so thankful there is still someone you can count on.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Princess Arc - Another post from the tablet of a writer…

On the way to daycare today December and I got in an excellent discussion about character arc in movies.
She is four.
She loves princesses – Disney Princesses, of course.
So really we were analysing the princessinessitudeship of the canon Disney princesses and comparing them to their peers.
What follows is a summary of our conclusions:
Snow White: Born a Princess. Has Princesshood stripped from her. Regains it.
Cinderella: Not a Princess. Becomes a Princess through marriage.
Aurora (Sleeping Beauty to those of you not immersed in the Cult of Princess.): Born a Princess. Not told she is a Princess. Returned to Princesshood. (Though from her perspective she is like Cinderella in Princess-arc, she is in fact more like Snow White.)
Ariel (“The Little Mermaid.”): Born a Princess. Sacrifices/Risks Princesshood (depending on interpretation). Marries into an entirely different Princesshood.
Belle: (That would be ‘Beauty’ as in “Beauty and the Beast.”) Not a Princess. Becomes a Princess through marriage.
Jasmine (A rare non-titular Princess – from “Aladdin.”): Born a Princess. Briefly pretends not to be a Princess. Stays a Princess – in fact the Prince becomes a Prince because of her.
Pocahontas: Born a Princess. Stays a Princess. (Though it bears mentioning that her title is never Princess – it is a cultural equivalent of Chieftain’s Daughter. This is accepted in the canon without much question.)
Mulan: Technically never a Princess! Not even culturally equivalent. But if we accept the general tropes of the Princesses and that she is included as one of the Princesses in the canon by most measures and subsequently re-align her arc with the parallel components then she progresses as follows… Princess. Pretends to not be a Princess. Becomes a more Princessy Princess than before.
Tiana (The Princess and the Frog): Not a Princess. Hooks up with a Prince who has forsaken his Princehood… so really never becomes a Princess.
Rapunzel (You’ve probably heard of her though her film is named the entirely unobvious “Tangled.”): Born a Princess. Taken away and not told she is a Princess. Returned to Princesshood. (Basically the same as Aurora, although in a much more progressive and watchable film.)
Princess Merida (From “Brave” – to the point where lots of people mistakenly call her ‘Brave.’): The
first Disney/Pixar Princess, incidentally. Born a Princess. Stays a Princess. Tells the Princes to sit and spin.
Princess Anna (Perhaps you’ve heard of the indie-darling art-house film “Frozen” – which actually gave us two Princesses.): Born a Princess. Stays a Princess. Has an older sister and (SPOILER) hooks up with a commoner, so is destined to remain a Princess.
Princess Elsa (also from “Frozen.”): Born a Princess. Becomes a Queen (Basically a Princess who has levelled-up, so same thing but… more.) Eschews Princess/Queenhood in favour of Ice-Queen/Princesshood (AKA Being a Hermit.) Returns to regular Queen/Princesshood but is ‘out’ as an Ice-Queen/Princess.

Not really any great insights there, but it was a lot of fun to break it down with my kid.