Thursday, February 28, 2008

Defending the Music XIX: Disappointing you is getting me down.

Down to the last three.

This one is practically a given for a Canadian my age... though simply saying that is likely enough to elicit a tidal wave of denial. Certainly there is a significant segement of the population who is in denial about thier love of The Hip. Okay, that's not fair. What there is is a segment of the population who are either deliberately contrary, or whose taste is significantly out of whack with the popular taste of their countrymen. More power to them.

I've already done quite a discussion of my discovery of the Hip and how it affected my life, so this will be kinda short.

What is it about the Hip that makes them so enduring? Well, I do generally like their music - have since the very first listen. But it's the live experience that elevates them to a level of musical divinity. I've seen them five times in concert. Four of them rank amongst the best concerts I've ever seen. I don't know that it's something that traslates any way except in person.

Foremost in the live Hip experience is Gord Downie's stream of conscious rambling. I could recite word for word long strings of verbal effluvia that have excaped his mouth at concerts I've been to. The most famous example is the so called 'Killer Whale' monologue. Too bad it wasn't caught on video as well.

There is probably something perverse that bolsters the love of the Hip in that they are 'ours', by which I mean I'm kind of proud they never really broke in the U.S. They're more special as our secret. I've kind of made similar comments in other installments - how there is something less special in a way about the bands that have gone big. This one just happens to be additionally tied up in national pride. There is no doubt that the Tragically Hip's music is inextricably entwined with the Canadian experience. Gord Downie's poetic reference set is unapologetic in it's Canuck affiliation. We love him for it. Some day he ought to be our official poet laureate, not just the populist one.

The last line of Ahead by a Century stands as the single most affect lyric ever for me. I had experienced that feelsing, but never had the words by which to express it. The first time I heard the song, that last line cut me to my soul. I know I'm not the only one. It's that universal, and if there is no other example of genius in Gord Downie, he will always have 'Disappointing you is getting me down.'

On top of it all, I've got an amusing tale about flirting inadvertently with Paul Langois' wife at the Kingston Busker's festival. For the record, it was clear that she thought it was quaint - when I realised who she was with, it became apparent why... not to mention I was practically a kid.

Monday, February 25, 2008

An Open Letter to Ralph Nader

Dude! Please!

Are not the last eight years of history enough? Or have you completely forgotten that if you had not run in 2000 there would have been an entirely different president (and party) in the White House for no less than four of the past four years - arguably the most critical of those four years, no less.


That type of question hardly warrants a response. Perhaps you haven't read a newspaper in the past 78 months, but the corrupt fuckwad who stole the office in 2000 has made a real hash of things since... you did read about the events of that sunny Tuesday in New York one September, right?

I challenge you to put together a list of positive gains that have come from a result of your act of diluting the votes of the Dem's in 2000. Here I'll even give you a bit of help: Al Gore won an Oscar last year. (C'mon, you ought to be able to come up with one more - I'll give you a hint, it also involves Al Gore having more time on his hands than he would have as President and thus winning an award of some significance.)
Okay, now does anything on that list come close to matching the other side of that coin?
That being: Throwing the world into further religious and political instability and putting your own country into financial ruin in the course?

"Oh yes, but this is different. Not even the Republicans would vote for a candidate as right-wing as GWB this time around. How do you think John McCain became the apparent nominee?"

You're missing the point. Even I agree that when it comes to Elephants, McCain is about as good as it gets - you are right that is how he managed to get to where he is and he has the current climate to thank... I guess you could say he has you to thank. I 'get' that you think that there is political value in a third candidate - an option. I totally believe in a 3+ party system. I think it works quite well for us in Canada... and our third party is WAY closer to having a snowball's chance than your independent ass.
But as 'decent' an option as McCain is, your country NEEDS to change. The Democrats are already hell bent on leveling the playing field. Perhaps no one has pointed this out to you, but they're taking advantage of the nearly sure-fire-win situation that they are in and are on the verge of nominating either a woman, or a black man (and it's really looking like it's the latter). The Republicans have fucked things up so much that the Dem's feel totally comfortable taking an apparent surefire win and making a bit of a race of it by putting a historically earth shattering candidate up for the big office.
So let's look at this...
The Republicans are putting up a guy so moderate he's practically a Democrat on some issues.
The Democrats are, one way or the other, going for the hail mary.
There might actually be a race going on here as a result.
What if that race is as close as 2000? What IF Ralph?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I've Never Wanted to See a Movie so Badly

This reviewer does the best job ever of making me want to see a film.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Defending the Music XVIII: Seems a Million Miles Away but it Gets a Little Closer Every Day

I had to miss the concert. It was the only reasonable course. I had tickets. It was the first stadium concert in twenty years. I had even did back-flips to arrange the best possible chance to be able to go... but when the time came I was too tired and had too far to go to complete my task and at too great stakes to risk the additional exhaustion of seeing one of my favourite bands of all time live... for possibly the only time in my life...

When I first saw the video for Every Breath You Take, I already recognised that The Police were an established band of note though I couldn't name any of their songs (though it would turn out I did know a few already.) I was taken in my the compellingly moody single instantly. It wasn't even the coolest video to come off the album.

I think I actually got Synchronicity through the Columbia House music club - which in those days was a 4-6 weeks 'til delievery kind of affair, a seeming enternity compared to the 4 business days of today.

I loved the album, but Demetri... I think it's safe to say that that album changed his life. Demetri became a lifelong Police fan, and as one of my best childhood friends, he brought the rest of the Police albums into my life.

Five albums seems like such a rip-off. We only got five from one of the best trios ever put together.
Sting: This guy started his career as one of the greatest song-writers in rock history... and there is only one direction to go from there. His time with the Police produced several dozen of the most perfectly crafted songs ever. Paul McCartney personally thanked him for writing a perfect bass-line for Walking on the Moon. Sting's solo career however fell victim to the law of diminishing returns. Dream of the Blue Turtles is a masterwork. Nothing Like the Sun has masterworks on it. Soul Cages has a masterwork on it. After that his career becomes a scattering of moderate accomplishments floating amongst a sea of noodling pretentious mediocre MoR.
Stewart Copeland: Watching Live in Atlanta more than a decade after it had been released, I found myself entranced by Stewart Copeland's performance. His rhythmic texturing made the Police what they were - not to detract from either of his compatriots prowess. He's fucking brilliant. After watching that video I wrote an email to Demetri expressing my appreciation for Stewart Copeland in a way I have never managed to recapture the effectiveness of.
Andy Summers: When they formed the Police, Andy Summers was already a London Club Act legend. He was the guy who lost out to Ron Wood as Mick Taylor's replacement (Oh how different music history would have been!) in The Rolling Stones - but clearly Keith Richards wasn't going to allow himself to be upstaged by the gargantuan talent of Summers. (Yeah, bring it on Stones fans, I have nothing but contempt for the three chords your boys have never wavered from at tedium.) Put it this way, when Summers agreed to be the senior member of the police, Sting and Stewart, went all fanboy.

When a year ago a reunion tour was announced, I went all fanboy. Demetri went all fanboy. We went and paid the extra cost necessary to get advance tickets through Best Buy with our other friend David. Demetri made plans to fly from London England to Vancouver in order to see the first Police concert in what might have well have been ever in our lives.

Then life started to interfere.

My film, Beast of Bottomless Lake was necessarily scheduled to overlap with the concert. Our schedule quivered back and forth right up until the end, and in the end I arrived back from the Okanagan the day before the concert, exhausted and already on the verge of an exhaustion triggered illness I would have been borderline... but something had also come up for Demetri. He couldn't make it either. That pretty much did it for me. Being there without him seemed to me like it would have been awkwardly hollow. I felt like I would have been betraying him.

I admit I really wish I could have seen the Police, and the fact that technically I could have made it makes it a real question, but given the same choice under the same circumstances I would take the same option - regretfully missing one of the most anticipated concerts of my life. The additional stakes were simply too high.

Demetri did eventually get to see the Police. If I get a second chance, I figure I'll take it.

Greatest SNL Sketch Ever

To be fair, there are a LOT of potential best-SNL-sketches-ever. This is merely one of my favourites. I wish I could find it somewhere on line. It's at least as remarkable as it stands out in an episode chock-full of unusually funny sketches with a guest who by all rights ought to be totally tepid - Chris Evert Lloyd.

I think this is a case where the script itself carries most of the hilarity... or perhaps it's just that I have the benefit of carrying a fairly crystal clear image of the sketch in my mind's eye. The basic conceit is Mike Meyers is an executive for Columbia Picutres which has just been acquired by a Japanese media conglomerate and he is very excited to tell us about their new programming....

[Tatsuo sits at desk. behind him are posters of Columbia Pictures films]

Tatsuo Nosaka: Hello, my name is Tatsuo Nosaka, I am new president of Columbia Pictures. I want to take opportunity to tell American people, we understand what you like! We are working hard to make many new films and television shows for you to consume. In fact, we have just finished new situation comedy for American TV audience. It is crazy and out to lunch! It is called "The Nude House Of Wacky People." Here are some scenes:

[Stock footage of a car wiping out and hurtling down a cliff. Inset circle of Tatsuo narrating]

Here is the father coming home from work with many American hamburgers for the family. He is driving so crazy it makes me laugh! Oh, no! He is crashing so much I have to laugh again! This is too much for me to look at and yet somehow I want to watch more!

[Sitcom living room. The father carries an armload of hamburgers through the front door]

Here is the father again, trying to carry the hamburgers home. Maybe he should carry the car it is so small by now!

[doorbell rings]

Oh, no! How much more insane can it get, I am wondering also.

[Father opens door. Bear enters & immediately attacks Father.]

A bear? How did he get there? There is no time for wondering, because the father is already fighting the bear! Then the bear leaves.

[The bear does indeed stop fighting and walks calmly out the door.]

Whew! Could we please stop now because it is so insane? No, we cannot!

[Wacky mother descends staircase]

Uh-oh, here comes the mother! She is asking the father why the hamburgers smell like a car that has crashed. He tries to think of a falsehood, but he cannot! So he throws fudge at her!

[Father throws a handful of fudge at mother. Bear enters from front door]

Then the bear comes back for more fighting!

[Fight continues]

This is so unusual, I might have to lose my mind! This family is too eccentric!

[Bear calmly leaves again]

I am glad it's over.

[The two children come down the stairs]

Hey! Here are the children of the wacky family! "Thank you for so many hamburgers," they say! "Ohhhh," says the father, "you cannot have hamburgers or candy canes until you do your homework!" "But we have no homework," say the children. "No homework?" Says the wacky father, "Then you will have to fight the bear!"

[Father opens the door for the Bear, who now fights with all four family members.]

I hope you have enjoyed these scenes from "The Nude House of Wacky People," Coming in January on CBS! If these pictures have not already convinced you how insane it is, then how about this?

[a green, dollar-sign-festooned show ribbon appears with Ronald Reagan's face inside]

That is right, it is the Ron Reagan United States presidential seal of approval!

Ronald Reagan: The Nude House Of Wacky People is just the kind of wholesome family entertainment that Japan is known for. Nancy loves it too!

Tatsuo Nosaka: And, don't forget our other new shows, such as:

[Appropriate title card appears for each show]

"You Can't Stop Him, He's Too Insane!"

"Good Hitting Police,"

and, "Who Can Figure Out Such Devices?"

If I am not mistaken, they will all drive you into a gourd! Later, dudes!

[fade to black]

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Defending the Music XVII: I don't have a gun...

Kind of got knocked off the flow for a bit there. But I'm in the home stretch.

I've got to say that I've actually said plenty about each of the remaining artists at some time or another and part of the stall has been me struggling against the probability of repeating myself - not to mention the heaps of other writing that has been done about each of them.

I've already written about the quite powerful musical moment in my life where Nirvana screamed onto the scene and I realized that 'every thing has changed' and I won't retread that here.

So, what was it about Nirvana that spoke so directly to such a huge swath of people? And my HUGE I mean that they were one of the last bands (none after it spring to mind, though I'd be interested in hearing nominations for challengers) to ever manage to reach the vast majority of an entire generation. They were the first triple platinum punk band.

It had been a long time since music had so completely tapped into the emotional zeitgeist of the youth culture when it was in a volatile state. Which is not to say that there wasn't a voice for the disenfranchised between the summer of love and 1992. It's not to say that there wasn't music that stood up and demanded that it's point be heard. It's not to say that there was no cathartic vent for generational anger fuelled by three chords. But no one quite brought it together the way Kurt Cobain did on Nevermind.
And yet, what was he ever saying? No, I don't mean in a Weird 'Al' Smells like Nirvana way. I mean that even when you looked at the lyrics you often got the feeling that they most likely only ever made sense to Kurt. And THAT meant something. We were a generation without meaning and we knew it - the tiresome analysis by the Boomers of our place, threw it in our face (is it any wonder I have such contempt for the Beatles?). And the irony was that instead of making us pointless it wound us up to a fever pitch. "Fuck you. We're going to matter." We cried. Now, with the youngest of us on the back end of our thirties, I'd like to think we managed it, and I'd also like to think that our greatest days are still ahead.

It was so incredibly visceral, and in their brief heyday they proved that they were not a one trick pony. The Nirvana Unplugged album is one of the better and best selling Unplugged albums MTV ever released.

When Kurt died, (Leaving us one of music's most ironic lyrics behind in Come as You Are. Other contenders being the Who for My Generation and Amy Winehouse for Rehab. (Wow, I just ruined a sober point with a leavening paranthetical.)) it truly felt like something was lost. We lost a voice and we lost a future of music which would have been fascinating to watch unfold - even, if like so many artists all he could manage to do was to disappoint us (Sting, I'm looking at YOU!) But then again... perhaps Dave Grohl might have taken more of a part in the writing, and gawd knows he's proven himself.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Defending the Music XVI: We are Widening the Corridors and Adding More Lanes

There seems to be two very distinct camps on this band (discounting the third whose response is 'who?') there are those who rabidly love them and those who seem to think "Really? They're the most personality-less band ever." I generally pitch my tent in the first camp - but, like the Pixies, seeing them in concert was a big let-down.

John McRea has precisely four bits of stage business. And as he uses an average of two of them in the course of each song, they get old real quick-like. It was the first and only time I ever had front row tickets, and as much as that was cool, it wasn't enough to elevate the rather tepid performance to anything remotely approximating inspiring.

So how, in the light of that, does Cake rise above the chaff to earn a place amongst my all-time favourite bands? Pure quirk. What some see as a lack of personality comes across as entirely the opposite to those of us who are true believers? It seems so. Their sound is so distinctive. John McRea's detached sounding vocals, Vincent DiFiore's trumpet... even the revolving door of lead guitarists (actually there aren't anywhere the number of lead guitarists that there have been either bassists or drummers) find a unified sound somewhere in the middle of their audio palette. Cake songs sound like Cake songs, but they breadth of their style extends from country to disco to hard rock. It may be that Cake are too cool for their own good and their sense of hip comes across as smug aloofness... and I suppose I can see how that might be off-putting.

I'll admit that it's tough to defend Cake on any specific basis. I figure you either love 'em or you don't. If they've accomplished nothing else in this world, their irony dripping cover version made it acceptable for straight guys to sing "I Will Survive." The fact that their song "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" is the theme song for the hit geek-chic spy-comedy-adventure "Chuck" is testament to their arrival in the eschelons of the eternally cool.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Defending the Music XV: Save the Shame for Me

Marquetta didn’t turn me on to R.E.M. but she played me more R.E.M. albums than I had previously heard. At that time I had pretty much only heard the ‘Document’ album, with its muscular-sounding iconic ode to using and discarding lover after lover (or at least loved one after loved one), “The One I Love,” and luckily some other boob had made an ass of himself by calling them “Rem” in my presence before I said it out loud myself – to the mockery of other college rock fans in the room. Boy did HE look dumb. (To be fair, at some other point I declared my appreciation for a band I referred to once and once only out-loud as ‘Inks.’)

Pete Buck’s unique guitar style – he is one of the few guitarists in popular music in the latter half of the 20th C. to finger-pick as a habit – made the simple repeated riff that drives the song snag into my brain. It was catchier than any lyric that had ever come before it. The plaintive one-word chorus was wrought with guilty self-hating angst… Fuck, how could an 18 year old not love this? At first, the repeated verse seemed unimaginative. But I forgave it long enough to understand it. The repetition, it turns out was a little bit of genius. This abuse – getting what one needs and moving on, is a serial habit, to the point where one victim is no different from the last.

Here is the true magic of R.E.M. Michael Stipe’s lyrics are not merely art. They often rise to the level of high-art, being structurally sound in support of their meaning and imagery.

Douglas Coupland spawned a Gen-X trend by declaring in his seminal (and frankly rather boring) novel that countless numbers of us had memorized the lyrics to “It’s the End of the World as We Know it.” (Which is no mean feat. Just try and get them all straight!) But here’s the thing… he didn’t make it up out of whole cloth. He was merely acknowledging a genuine trend. I don’t believe it was a fad until he mentioned it. I memorized them before I had read the book because of the combined challenge and the compelling nature of the screed of stream of consciousness that it represented.

And this was all before they put it out of the park.

The Juanabees used “Losing My Religion” as the theme-song to our first show ‘We Juanabee Bigger than Jesus’ (of which religion was a major theme). By the end of that summer I would have been happy if I never heard that song again. I’ve gotten over than feeling in the intervening 16 years. It’s that good a song.

In the years that I was making beer-money busking in ‘The Wookie Co.’ with Matthew we made liberal use of R.E.M. songs. Once, pretty much as a joke, we played “Superman” (Which to be fair was a cover.) for an entire set at the Kingston Buskers’ Festival. We didn’t make much money in that set, but damn did we amuse ourselves. We had a lousy location with mediocre walk-by traffic, and from a previous set in the same place we’d found that no-one seemed compelled to stop and listen to our ‘witty banter’ at that location (honest to god, they did in other locations) due largely to a lack of decent seating for a ‘starter crowd’ to begin forming. (Funny. People will happily stand once others have started watching and listening, but try and get the first person to stay without somewhere to sit.) We figured that if people were only going to be listening for the 90 seconds it took to walk past that we may as well only play one song. Later we were told by someone who had been listening across the street that they were at first confused that we just kept on playing the same thing, then they got tired of it and bored, then a bit annoyed and eventually came to find it funny. Looooong way to go for such a high-concept joke.

We also used “Me in Honey” & “You are the Everything” to great end. …Though we never played either of them for forty five minutes straight. “You are the Everything” was one of the few songs we never made light of and actually played quite straight. It was always one of our favourites. “Me in Honey” remains one of the most heartbreaking songs ever for me.

I gotta admit that from “Monster” onwards I felt like R.E.M. was only firing on half its cylinders. But even a half-functional R.E.M. was better than most bands ever were. They remain capable of creating songs that are pure art, and stringing five of the best albums of my lifetime back to back is more than enough to earn my unflinching trust in their abilities. I’m looking forward to their first album in four years sometime in April. I’m harbouring hopes that they’ll have had a good port-polish and that engine will be putting out a full horse-power.

Oh, and in the off chance J. David ever reads this… Yes, your version of ‘Stand’ remains one of the funniest Karaoke incidents ever.