Friday, July 31, 2009
If you listened to This American Life this past week you already know this story, but I felt like it was worth re-iterating in my own words.
If you were a teenager in the 80s you must have heard the tale about VanHalen having it in their contract with their promoter that they had to have a bowl of M&Ms backstage in their dressing rooms and that all the brown ones had to be removed.
If they didn't have it they were in their rights to cancel the show and still recieve their entire fee. Apparently in one case they even did $100Gs worth of damage to the dressing room.
This was taken usually one of two ways:
Either as an extreme example of spoiled diva behaviour; or - and not terribly different - as an example of a rock-band with enough money and chutzpah to put something totally frivolous in their contract just for yuks.
But apparently there was a real and practical reason for the clause. One that was easily missed in favour of the more colourful story.
So let's say you are a rock band. You have a certain style and flaire that really has to be seen to fully appreciate. You've come up with a show that - well it's a capital 'S' "Show." Fog and lasers and lights and stacks of Marshall amps and PAs, plus the people who have learned how it all goes together. It takes a LOT of power and it's a big mass o' stuff. There is - pardon me - a LOT of heavy metal. Plus the man-power it takes to operate it - the people who are on your travelling crew; plus a small army of local hires. The Show is BIG.
There are a whole schwack of details. There has to be enough wattage available at the venue; the structure of the building needs to be able to support - literally - the show, you need a thick cement floor - no basketball courts, and the ceiling rafters need to be able to bear extra load; there needs to be sufficent lodging for the road crew - who don't get to go to their hotels 'til after the show is over, so they also need to be fed; and the locals need to be both properly skilled and there needs to be the right number of them - not too many, not too few... and they need to be sober.
Lots of stuff has to go right every single stop along the way. Yes there is someone whose job it is to do their best to make sure that happens, but when it comes down to it every single show needs to have someone on the ground locally - typically hired by the local promoting partner - from the time the show is booked until the cages are swept out and the circus heads for the next town. Someone who can liase with the venue, who knows the local IATSE folks and has the contacts and know how to make all those little finnicky details happen.
Those finnicky details? They aren't so finnicky. One single simple example to demonstrate the point: I mentioned the ceiling needs to be able to bear sufficient load. Every venue knows it's specs - or at least figures them out in short order because of details like this. Let's say one night your band plays the civic arena in Mid-nowhere Alberta. The civic arena is really just the old curling club that was converted in 1927. Your lighting rig is usually hung from the steel I-beams of places like Pacific Colesieum. But the Mid-nowhere Civic Arena is actually made entirely of wood. The ceiling joists are old brittle cedar beams that have been soaking up the moisture of spring-melt, baking through the summer drought and then freezing in the dead of winter since long before the conversion that happened 82 years ago. So when your lighting rig pulls down the roof on the mosh-pit in the middle of your hit song "Chicken Li'l"... who exactly is to blame?
THAT is why those contracts exist. They are actually called riders - they are an addition to the contract, what the specific legal difference and explanation is, I can't really say. But every single line in that contract has a very specific important purpose. It may be as critical as keeping your fans alive, like in the example above; or it might be about keeping your locals sober enough to do their part (Apologies to IATSE members everywhere, I know you are typically far more responsible than two mentions of drunkeness in one blog entry implies - I just got off on a jag.); or it could be about making sure that your feather-allergic road manager actually gets a bed he can sleep the night through in so he can be rested enough to go through it all again tomorrow.
They had a really clever idea. Their show was HUGE. Far bigger than your band's "S"how. (That's why we've heard of Van Halen and not your one-hit-wonder band and their stupid forget-me hit "Chicken L'il", despite the infamous Mid-nowhere Civic Arena disaster.) The details for their shows were way beyond what most promoters were accustomed to and many of those details were critical in the sense of "if this goes wrong, people die" or "if this doesn't happen the electircal grid for the surrounding city collapses and the show is over, like it or not" variety. Now they could say to the promoter as many times as they liked, as emphatically as possible "make sure you go through every line-item in the rider very very very carefully" - and presumably, they did. But that was hardly a guarantee that these things would actually happen.
So, rather than hold the hand of the folks at every venue along the tour, they came up with a simple, seemingly frivolous canary in their coalmine. The bowl of M&Ms. Buried on page 9 of the 11 page rider... an innocuous little item.
And thus they knew that if they were to show up and there were brown M&Ms in the bowl - the rider had not been carefully read and they needed to check the details of the show line by line if they were going to perform at all.
As to the alleged hundred thousand dollars worth of dressing room trashing?
In his biography "Crazy from the Heat" (See, it all comes 'round.) David Lee Roth wrote that he once found brown M&Ms in a bowl and threw a fit. But most of the damages were caused by the stage set-up sinking into the wooden floor of the arena. To quote Diamond Dave, "they didn't bother to look at the weight requirements or anything, and this sank through their new flooring and did eighty-thousand dollars worth of damage to the arena floor. The whole thing had to be replaced. It came out in the press that I discovered brown M&Ms and did $85,000 worth of damage to the backstage area. Well, who am I to get in the way of a good rumor?"
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Vancouver hits record temperature of 9 million 3 hundred and 84 thousand, one Hundred and twenty-one degrees Celsius
- Montreal heat wave of '94 - 38 degrees
- Kuala Lumpur stop-over in '98 only left the air-conditioned hotel for an hour - 40-ish degrees
- Darwin about 12 hours later - 44 degrees - got on another plane in 20 minutes
- Adelaide for a few weeks shortly thereafter mid-30s and dropping
- Penang the next month - 40 degrees for 48 hours
- Las Vegas last month 41 degrees, almost never left the conference centre
Jodie and I were soaked to the bone and that night wasn't too bad thanks to the rain.
Even before that there was a day or so of warm - though not outrageous - temperatures. They say it's not over yet. Days to go probably. I don't think anyone is sleeping. The whole city is getting cranky.
In '94 - in the Montreal heat wave mentioned above - I was doing a show that took place in a heat wave. I wrote it. In the play one of the lead characters - the one I played had gone over the edge and started killing people. It wasn't the heat that pushed him over the edge, the heat was simply a co-relative thematic element. When his killing streak ended, the heat wave broke.
I'm going on a deliberate tangent here: The play - believe it or not - was a comedy. My character - Nigel - was upset about the lack of upward mobility for his (our) generation so he started an employment agency where he created opportunities for his clients by killing people in their corporate structure who had desirable positions. The show was the Juanabees' most successful show ever. We kicked ass for a few years previous to that, but the reviews of that show were over the top.
Looking back I'm amused that the show - despite the plot I outlined above - wasn't really about that. I mean it was. But it wasn't. (Blame the heat for this lack of clarity.) Nowhere in the plot did we get into the detail of what was being done to stop Nigel's killing spree. In the end he was caught largely by a police officer being in the wrong place at the right time. (Not quite so deus ex machina as that sounds - Nigel ultimately DID make bad choices (other than becoming a serial killer) that directly led to the police officer being able to put things together. Ultimately the play was really about three 20-something Gen-Xers trying to figure out their place in the world.
There was Mark, the career-student, hiding from responsibility, trying to be the moral core of the roommates, but ultimately too lazy to make a stand on anything more important than whose turn it was to do the dishes, Teak, on the surface, your standard issue stoner whose hallucinogenic internal life seems to manifest in the real world (mostly to comic effect). We in fact never showed Teak using any kind of drug - people just assumed; and in the end it turned out that all the weirdness that surrounded his life (much of which I'm still pretty proud of as far a humour goes) actually was a result of him being from another dimension (to which he returns at the end.). And of course the previously mentioned Nigel - frustrated bottom-rung ad-exec turned crusading murderer. They had a fourth roommate - Dale - who was never seen (though occasionally heard) until the last scene where he managed to tie up a number of loose ends with one line and about 20 seconds of stage time and often get one of the biggest laughs of the entire show. Dale was often played by a special guest, but otherwise he was played by the fourth actor in the show (on that tour it was Mike Rinaldi) who played "Everyone Else" and usually stole the show in the process.
Anyhow... so much for that nostalgic sidetrack...
It is SO fucking hot.
Today I had to meet Craig to go over some endgame "Beast..." stuff. We chose a place that required me to go up a hill to get to. I made a point of approaching from a direction that placed the hill last so that I could go from hill to cold drink as soon as possible. Holy crap.
I can see why people have heart attacks from the heat. And I'm starting to see why people 'lose it' in a heat wave. My head is not screwed on right. I'm not in any danger of going all 'Nigel' on folks, but the phrase "crazy from the heat" makes a LOT of sense to me right now.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
I received an email from my Mother. She has a friend who is reading one of my favourite books – Moby Dick – for a book club selection. She wanted to know why I loved it. I haven't really thought about it that much in definable terms, so I kind of got into my reasoning a bit. It's not a very good literary critique, but I thought it was worth posting nonetheless.
Mom tells me you're reading Moby Dick for you book club and that you are curious why it's one of my favourite books. (NOTE: This explanation got a little bit away from me, and ended up turning into a really crappy turgid essay. A literary critique that would have my University professors giving me retroactive fails. But it was fun to focus my thoughts a bit. I suspect I'll have to answer the basic question again someday.)
For starters, let's take the basic story-line. A lot of people complain that the book is too complex. And there is an awful lot going on on various levels, but when it comes right down to it, the essential narrative is quite simple and it's fairly simply presented. Many people, myself included quickly tire of the florid writing of anything written before the early 20th C. but I don't find that Moby Dick goes far in that direction. Perhaps that it's a North American novel – and thus written in a more colloquial form of English – is the reason why. Certainly the traditional image of 'classic literature' is more likely to be written on the other side of the Atlantic. I'm getting off point... The story itself is really very simple, and I think on that basis arguments of its complexity are easily cast aside.
Perhaps it's a testosterone thing, but naval adventure itself has a certain visceral effect on me, and evidence suggests I'm not alone.
But to take the book simply as a naval adventure is to do it an obvious disservice. It's hard to talk about the book without defining its two major elements as separate structural pieces and dealing with each as its own entity.
I'll come back to the narrative after I've dealt with what I think of as the 'documentary' chapters. It actually amazed me when I re-read the novel just how late in the book the documentary chapters begin – somewhere in the forties if I'm not mistaken. They are such an important part of what I love about the book. The precision with which Melville itemizes the aspects of whaling and breaks down the minutiae is for me the most fascinating thing about the novel, and I believe it was one of the most interesting parts of the book when it was published (serially, if I'm not mistaken). Whaling was at the time a very important industry and 'on the radar' of most if not all people – yet unless it was something one had embarked upon, it was an industry that was largely un-illuminated in its detail. All the most essential aspects of it occurred out on the sea, well out of the awareness of the common person and amongst a demographic sub-set which was not known for its public availability. When the book was written it was opening up a new world to people via the story and plumbing detail with the documentary chapters. Compare that to today where whaling is caught between being a dead industry and a criminal act and we get to examine a very different world than our own.
That latter thought is taken to greater/more-specific detail when we look at the knowledge and social norms of the time. Whether it's as simple as looking at the racism applied to Queequeg – even from the relatively enlightened Ishmael – in a manner that was so acceptable at the time that it's baldness is in itself interesting; or looking at Melville's own ad hoc taxonomy of whales – which is so simplistic by today's standards, showing hints of Linnaean influenced order which was probably not popularly known at the time of the writing. I think the chapter on types of whales may even be the first of the documentary chapters – it's an interesting way to begin them; bearing witness to the scientific ignorance of the time and author.
Of the documentary chapters much is said about the literary value of the "Whiteness of the Whale" chapter – which is an oddity among the documentary chapters as it is more like a poem than a clinical or historical examination of anything. I have a very well read friend who loves that chapter and is totally unflinching about the possibility of tossing the rest of the novel away wholesale. For myself I am far more interested in the chapters about the minutiae – the chapter about the use and creation of rope for example – utterly mundane until examined in detail. Who knew that so much thought had ever been put into rope? We tend to just take it for granted.
To the best of my knowledge, Moby Dick is one of the first post-modern novels. I can't really say why it is, but I have a looo-ong appreciation for the clash of styles and approaches that can be used in a post-modern work. There are many ways a story can be told and using multiple styles – chapters in Moby Dick include (beyond the documentary chapters) one which is a short play and I believe plural chapters which are songs. The lack of strict format would not work for all books, but if one format might work better for a certain element, then why not use it? Being an early attempt, Moby Dick is hardly a paragon of post-modernism – having only a fraction of the refinement of say "Ulysses" but I don't think it suffers from it. I don't think I'd be the only person to fairly be able to say that Ulysses borders on unreadable, despite being so tightly crafted to encompass a wide variety of styles without sacrificing unity.
Though it's not a major focus of my appreciation, I find Melville's brewing agnosticism – or perhaps better identified "defiance in the face of god" – interesting as expressed through Ahab. I guess I personally find the mid 1800s to be an interesting time in the philosophical development of western thought because of the dawning possibility/awareness that there might not in fact BE a god in the Judeo-Christian sense. Melville was a little ahead of the curve in that way of thinking. Not outright denying the existence of god, but denying god's authority over himself as a person. "Moby Dick" was written nearly a decade before the publication of "The Origin of Species" really started to shake things up. I do have to wonder if Melville had a chance to read "Origin..." and what that did for his way of thinking. In any case, that was years after he symbolically railed at god through Ahab at the storm and the white whale. As I said, I haven't considered this aspect in depth – and there is much depth to be considered in the book if one wants to read into it beyond the narrative and the documentary – but I suspect that should I get around to reading Moby Dick again, this will be what I focus on.
One more thing that I found interesting (if ultimately unsupportable) was upon my last reading it was suggested in some critical literature that there is a chance that Ishmael is in fact himself Ahab. He does not actually say his name is Ishmael, he merely says "Call me Ishmael." And now Ahab, sole survivor of the Pequod, is banishing his guilt by divorcing himself from his true identity and telling the tale of how he, in the name of revenge, doomed his entire crew. It's an interesting thought – but I don't really think it stands to scrutiny.
I have occasionally noted that there is so much to read in the world that there are few books that are great enough to read over again. I have read Moby Dick twice now, and I suspect there is a good chance I will read it again someday. I really think it is that good.
I hope you enjoy it.
Monday, July 20, 2009
I've been thinking of today as Greatest Achievement in the History of Human Endeavour Day.
I've also started a new blog - Confessions of an Asshole Skeptic. I began it with an entry on my thoughts on the moon landing. I do stray slightly towards moon landing hoax discusssion, (hence the connection of the two together in one post here).
The Asshole Skeptic blog is intended to be my on-going skeptical blog. I had begun the TAMazing Blog as a test and to diarize my experiences at TAM. I'm a long way from completing that, but along the way - both in blog musings and in discussions at TAM I found myself thinking long and hard about the ideas of Asshole Skepticism. I'm not going to get into that here - that is the other blog's purpose. It occurred to me that my ongoing exploration of the uses and boundaries of Asshole Skepticism are worthy of their own venue. I will probably do a few scattered posts on the Asshole Skeptic blog between now and finishing the TAM blog. I may even re-open the TAM blog in a year's time should I return to TAM, but I don't think the two should be connected anymore than by association via me.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Jodie took me to see Social Distortion last night at the Commodore Ballroom.
It's always cool to be at the Commodore. It's such an awesome room, and knowing that my grandparents danced on that dance floor (okay, the floor was replaced back in the '90s.)
Social Distortion was great. I don't think Mike Ness stopped to breathe until they've scorched their way through five songs. The crowd was awesome – I don't recall being at a concert where the audience was SO happy to be there in a very long time. It's also been a while since I was at a show with hardcore moshing going on.
But I don't really want to spend my effort touting the well established cred of Social Distortion. We tried to arrive late enough that we'd miss the opening acts. We failed in part and thank goodness we did. We missed The Strangers entirely, but as we were coming up the stairs from Granville Street, the all-girl pop-thrash band Civet. Hit the stage like a pack of rabid... mongoose like things, not really lemurs, kinda like cats.... uh... this is actually a joke. Civets are weird looking African mongoose-like, cat-ish, lemurian sort of things. They happen to be believed to be the source of the SARS virus. Perhaps that's why the ladies chose the name for their band... or perhaps it was because they happen to like coffee made of poo.
In any case... they fucking rocked! Imagine the Bangles and W.A.S.P. having love children... that's Civet. They were loud, sexy and absolutely delighted to be there. They made it no secret that last night was the biggest show yet of their lives and they played to the occasion.
If I were to level any criticism at the band it would actually be disguised as a compliment to one of them. The drummer, Roxie Darling, is slumming. They are all high-energy and make up for the shortcomings of their still young career with enthusiasm and passion – saying Darling is slumming is unfairly selling the others short.
This is what it would have been like had The Runaways done burlesque.
Go to iTunes, buy their album Hell Hath No Fury, now.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
I remember watching the news when Walter Cronkite retired. Even though he was an American anchor it seemed weird that there could ever be someone else reporting the news. I'm surprised to be reminded that it was 1981. I expected it to be the late 80s. I'm surprised I had a recollection of him retiring when I was only 11 years old. And since then Dan Rather who took the baton from him has passed it on to Katie Couric... both great in their own way, but nowhere near being the defining face of the news the way he was.
I found out he died last night by coming in the side door of the news. I was watching Apollo Moon Landing footage... one of the links mentioned his death. It couldn't have been more than a few minutes old at the time.
Here's what I was watching:
And now skipping to footgae that is less condensed...
Kind of strange that he should pass away so close to the anniversary of an event that was so important in his career. Nixon resigning. Kennedy being assasinated. Those are the only things amongst a list of historic events that he was central to the public understanding of, but none in my mind are as luminous (pun intended) as his reporting on the moon landing.
"...and that's the way it is."
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Neko Case (who knew?!?) playing "Not My Job" on "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" riffing Ken Burns style about Necco wafers.
The day after returning from The Amazing Meeting I was interviewed on Radio Freethinkers.
All episodes appear on the feed page, so the longer after the publish date of this post, the further down the page you'll have to scroll. For (relative) ease it's the July 14th 2009 episode, episode #17.
It was their cryptozoology episode, so naturally we talked about The Beast of Bottomless Lake.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Time to update the vocab.
Merriam Webster have published their new words list for 2009.
I'm surprised a few took so long to get recognized. Like; earmark, shawarma and sock-puppet. Haven't there been sock-puppets for... well all my life and longer? And sure shawarma has ported over from Arabic, but this small town boy had his first shawarma in 1991, and I doubt that they had just arrived on the shores of the big city I had it in.
Some of those other words – vlog and webisode, I'm looking at you – in comparison have totally jumped the queue.
You probably had to be there.
Just got back from a really great weekend in Vegas at The Amazing Meeting.
LOTS to say. Luckily I have a second blog where I am going on about that, The TAMazing Blog. I'll put anything of relevance there... though it's a LOT of catching up to do. No cross posting I promise.