Sunday, May 21, 2017

Art Bergmann and I: a reflection on troubled fandom, and notes on the last electric show

Art Bergmann at the Rickshaw, May 19, 2017, by the great bev davies, not to be reused without permission, please! All live photos of Art below by bev...

I am not entirely sure what happened with me and Art Bergmann, in terms of my fandom. It has been a very rocky road! There are other artists I've tried to walk away, unsuccessfully, from at various points in my life - from Daniel Johnson to David Cronenberg - but not other Vancouver musicians. I'm presently back "on" in terms of my fandom, but I kinda feel like exploring my history with the man and his music, maybe in more detail than you want or is wise...

I didn't really get him, early on. I had the Poisoned EP, when it first came out back in 1985 - buying it off Grant Shankaruk, maybe on his recommendation even, back when Grant worked at Collectors RPM. My seventeen year old music geek self back then was aware of the critical buzz around him, but that EP - it might have been the first thing I ever heard of his - didn't really connect with me, truth be known. I enjoyed the Young Canadians' EPs, also acquired early on, around the same time maybe, but even they took awhile for me to fully appreciate, because I was an outsider to the scene when I bought them, a few years after they were current. The context of, say, "No Escape" to a suburban kid like me was pretty remote and mysterious back then; I had never even been to a gig at the Smilin' Buddha, though I knew it by rep, and had glimpsed it from bus windows on the way back and forth from Maple Ridge; I wasn't old enough to get in, and even if I had been, didn't have a car to get me home from gigs, or even a friend with a car who had the same level of interest in what was going on there. I recall, as a kid, liking the more "trivial" songs on the Young Canadians discs, like Jim Bescott's playful "Just a Loser." Nowadays, "No Escape" is probably my favourite song ever about police violence directed at punks, MAYBE with some competition from the Dicks "Pigs Run Wild," though the context of that is a very different scene than Vancouver's, so it seems a bit less relevant. "No Escape" seems brave, anthemic, and brilliant, and I've made a stab or two at transcribing the lyrics (without full success; not even his fansite has'em). I still don't really know what the Cold War-themed "Data Redux" is about, exactly - spies, sure, but what about 'em? - but those are the two greatest early songs by Art, far as I can see. (The K-Tel's "I Hate Music" also came across my radar early on, and was also pretty great, though how many artists have ever MADE a statement like that, admitted fundamental ambivalence to their own art form? It's a pretty interesting thing to do!).

...but the Poisoned EP, when I first got it, as a teenager on a diet of mostly American hardcore, just sounded like some sort of badly produced mainstream album, like "weak Lou Reed," or something, and even the edgiest moments didn't connect, though I tried to make them to with repeat playings, figuring that the problem was with me, not it. I like it better nowadays - I can see things in it that I sure couldn't then. Part of the problem may be that I've never had the remotest curiosity about heroin, let alone experience with it, save that it helped destroy one friendship I had, when a buddy got way deeper into it than he should have; it also has killed a few people I looked up to, which also wasn't great advertising for it. So "Guns and Heroin," which seems the obvious "best song" on the EP. the one that makes it a classic, like "Cortez the Killer" does with Neil Young's Zuma, was always kind of located between "meaningless" and "disturbing" to me, which is not a great spectrum for art appreciation to take place in: at best you admit you don't get it, at worst you judge it and walk away.

The next album I bought by Art, later on, was 1988's Crawl With Me, which was supposed to break Art bigtime across Canada, back in the days of Much Music and Jane Siberry and a genuine interest across the country in our hearing our own music, which seems to have lessened a bit since (The Tragically Hip notwithstanding, of course).  Even Art Bergmann admits that album fails, thanks to John Cale's limp, Artificial Intelligence/ "recovering addict" production (Art needed Sabotage-era Cale, steeped in alcohol and anger, and it ain't what he got; there's stories of him breaking down in tears when he heard the finished product). There were glimmers of greatness you could detect in the songwriting - the title track, say - but overall it seemed weak, nowhere worse than during Cale's saccharine "la-la-la" backup vocals on the incest-themed single, "Our Little Secret," which seem to completely misunderstand just how dark the song is. In fairness to Cale, I guess it does set the bar a bit high to try to market a song about trying to have a relationship with someone who was sexually abused by her father, as the lead single on a pop album; presumably that that's neither Cale's nor Bergmann's fault, but Duke Street Records, who I presume made the decisions here. (The rock video for it is fucking godawful, too; no wonder Art has a bitter streak!). I bought it on vinyl, back at A&A records on Granville I think, and got rid of it quickly. I'm not even sure I still have it in my collection these days. I almost felt like it was unfair to judge Art by it; word from the start was the demos were way better, which I had no trouble at all believing.

Sexual Roulette I liked way better - and the gritty album cover shows that Duke Street had a far better understanding of what they were trying to sell - but it was only decades later when I began to appreciate how horrifying "The Hospital Song" or "Dirge No. 1" are, or how rich. "Dirge No. 1" - about drugs and racially motivated violence in an unnamed  city - was actually the climax of the show the other night at the Rickshaw, with Art changing a couple of the lyrics: his friend was going out to kill every white man he saw, not every black man. Besides being politically timely and maybe expedient, this alteration fit Art's constant exhortations through the evening for "white folks" to dance, or his references to "Dumbfuckistan" - which seemed to be a mostly white country, maybe the USA, or maybe somewhere inside the province of rock'n'roll, or maybe even the home country (in Art's eyes?) of most of the audience at any given rock show. He has a sort of sporadic, sneering mistrust of the audience that was very much present at the last show I saw him at, at the WISE, and which I can't really blame him for; I feel much the same way, in fact, though it's shocking to see someone DISPLAY that mistrust so openly onstage, where most artists seem to just adopt a shit-eating grin and go "how y'all doin'?" (Art has something in common with Gord Downie, on that front, come to think of it - the one time I saw the Hip, at the Commodore on the World Container tour, Downie seemed to spend most of the show pretending to shoot members of the audience with a finger gun, then hiding behind his band members, like his fans were scary, dangerous things, which kinda seems to be the case). I really am not sure where "Dirge No. 1" came from, if it's mostly fictional, inspired by Art's readings, or what, since there is almost no white-on-black/ black-on-white violence in Vancouver that *I* have noticed (though the line about the chicken blood running in the gutter and stinking always takes me to the north end of Commercial Drive, on a summer day; I have had a few friends live in the ARC building, and the reek from the nearby chicken rendering plant is palpable indeed). Whoever's life, whoever's city informs that song, it rings very true and brutally honest - and surely there are plenty of people in Vancouver who "died along the way/ having fun." (A moment that, since I seem to be including every aside comes to mind, reminds me whenever I hear it of Philip K. Dick's mournful afterword to A Scanner Darkly - about people who were punished far too much for the crime of trying to enjoy themselves).

As for "The Hospital Song," I have had people argue at some length with me about the content, denying that it's about spousal abuse, sung from the point of view of the abuser, but, you know, I've also had people tell me that Kiss's "Lick It Up" and Judas Priest's "Love Bites" have nothing to do with oral sex; learning not to argue with the citizens of Dumbfuckistan is a valuable skill to acquire.

Anyhow, I could appreciate that Sexual Roulette was a good album, but when it came out - 1990, when I was 22 - I couldn't really understand it, and eventually set it aside, too; I stopped buying Art's records for twenty years after that, since, even if I conceded that they deserved respect, I just didn't figure I'd enjoy them. Somewhere in there I met Art, briefly, at a video store I worked at in Maple Ridge, where I got him to sign our rental copy of Highway 61, but it wasn't REALLY as a position of a fan that I pestered him, more like, "You're famous and respected! I should get you to sign something!" (It was nice of him to indulge me).

Art Bergmann and band by bev davies (Paul Rigby offstage to the left). Not to be reused without permission

Eventually I wandered away from rock music entirely, spent a few years on free jazz and noise and trippy weirdness like Eugene Chadbourne. It didn't really dawn on me to go back to Art until ten years ago, with the release of Lost Art, comprised of those storied Crawl With Me demos, which I'd always been curious about. (It helped that I was writing for local papers at that point and could do the album good by reviewing it from an informed perspective). That's where I finally got to appreciate his craft, though I retained a touch of ambivalence about him and his point of view. I mean, "The Junkie Don't Care" and "My Empty House" are really good songs, but they lean towards a wallowing in darkness that seems morally and aesthetically suspect to me. They're songs of experience, sure, observant and incisive songs of application to the human condition - I debate none of that! - but they're also songs of experience somewhat remote and uncomfortable, with a bitterness and blackness to their humour that I didn't fully buy into. Darkness sometimes can serve as an excuse for other things, a kind of special pleading, a belief that the rules of life, whatever exactly they are, somehow shouldn't apply to oneself, and a rationalization for bad behaviour. To simplify a bit: "Life is shit, pass the drugs." Art seemed to be following a very different idea of the rules of life than I was, and I got the sense that maybe, as a human being, I wouldn't like him very much. But Lost Art was still interesting, and I was glad it existed. Damn right it was better than the Cale demos!

A couple of coworkers of mine back then were big Art Bergmann fans, and helped me make my way through my ambivalences over the course of conversations (one of them was in the middle of helping with the construction of Art's fansite, as it happens, around this time; both were present in the audience with me at Art's first comeback gig, awhile later).

Then Susanne Tabata's movie about Vancouver punk came out, and I recall having a conversation with a person of import, who shall remain nameless, about the title, Bloodied But Unbowed, which - while I liked it just fine - wasn't everyone's favourite title, including my friend, who thought it was kind of inappropriate as a summation of the Vancouver scene: "What about Art Bergmann, he's not unbowed!" this person observed. For those who have somehow missed the film, Art seems a very bitter failure in the movie, crippled and broke, avoiding the limelight in Alberta, kinda like Bucky Haight, whom I always presumed was a caricature of him; the early cut of the doc, in particular, becomes a brutal "Bloodied Beaten and Nearly Dead" kind of experience, largely due to the cloud around Art, who seems far from any sort of special pleading, at this point; he just seems heartbreakingly, genuinely sad about his life trajectory, that for all the praise and awards and "stardom" and respect he'd been accorded, he should find himself damaged, broke, isolated and apparently forgotten by all but a few. Your heart just goes out to the guy - it's painful to see, the most sobering stuff in the movie, and Susanne Tabata - with whom I've also had a bit of a rocky relationship - deserves tons of praise for having done the work to do these interviews, in particular; along with Mary of the Modernettes and some very frank talk from Gerry Hannah, Art's scenes make up the heart of the film, make it essential viewing if you care about Vancouver music or the cost of a life in rock or, well, stuff  like that.

(Not that hearing about Zippy Pinhead's large cock isn't entertaining, too, in its own way.)

Anyhow, my friend - the "Art's not unbowed" one - didn't know, at that point, that Art had a show planned for Richards on Richards when we were having that conversation, out at Lougheed Mall. My timeline gets a bit foggy here - I know that I thought that Art's comeback should be included in the film, and believe that it eventually WAS included, in some subsequent version (the one on the DVD), but all I know is, when my friend made that comment, the concert had not yet happened. I fished out my ticket for the Art show and pushed it across the food court table where my friend and I were conversing and said, grinning, "Guess what? Art's playing in a couple weeks."

So there! Who you callin' bowed?

That show, at Richards in 2009, while it didn't entirely cohere, even threatened to go off the rails at various points, remains my favourite experience of seeing Art live, the one I was both best and least prepared for. It was obviously difficult for him - he'd undergone surgery not long before, had hands (and bandmates) that wouldn't permit him to play guitar - but there were tons of moments where the intensity of his performance ("Gambol," say) was overwhelming, perfectly captured in what remains one of my favourite latter-day bev davies' images, in terms of capturing the spirit of the show (I think she said she called it "Art Bergmann bites Vancouver," or something like that):

I collected a bunch of "witness testimony" from people who went, and decided at that point that I would count myself a fan, starting to play catch up on Art Bergmann albums I missed. I even briefly owned the Shmorgs LP, a mid-70's pre-punk, pre-K-Tels band he was in, which is interesting if you're exploring Bergmann's history, showing him as having roots in a sort of Stonesy rock music; but it's not that exciting on its own terms, save to the light it shines on his formative years (I still don't know what the Mt. Lehmann Grease Band, his other storied, early project, actually sounded like). My favourite album of the ones I explored was and remains Design Flaw, an acoustic revisitation of the highlights of his catalogue that he did in 1998 with Chris Spedding, where the starkness of both production and delivery push his songwriting to the fore, letting everything else (career ambitions, a desire to get on the radio or Much Music or whatever) fall away. It's brilliant, and it's weird to me that it's not much talked about (due to poor distro?). If I was going to name one essential solo album he'd done, this would be it, at least until recently... It's still a world removed from me - it would take someone with a much more decadent sensibility to really grok where many of these songs come from - but I could say that about a lot of what Townes van Zandt writes, too. It's still a great, great album, a real unsung gem. Turns out you can hear my favourite song on it, "Crawl With Me," here;  and at this moment, anyway. you can buy the CD for a little over $20 US on Discogs, or get it sent from this dude in Campbell River for a bit more. There appear to be only three copies for sale on the internet!

Design Flaw is the reason I'm shedding no tears that the show the other night was billed as Art's last electric appearance; I've been jealous for awhile that Toronto got to see him do an acoustic set, since I imagine - as with Design Flaw - it's in an acoustic context that the real brilliance of Art as a songwriter will be allowed to shine. It's also, sadly, the context where the citizens of Dumbfuckistan are going to be most irritating, as they jabber loudly with their friends while the band is playing and whoop drunkenly at the wrong times and get onstage screaming and calling attention to themselves, as one girl did the other night... It would be nice if audiences were as mature as the artists in this town, but fat chance of that - too many people seem to go to these shows just to be seen where the action is and be social ("it's not about the music," as my friend David M. has repeatedly observed). Who can blame ANYONE for being ambivalent about that?

All the same, you don't really hear artists (Wreckless Eric, maybe) reacting to such things very vocally in Vancouver, so when you see it happen, it kind of takes you aback. I hadn't known what to make of Art wishing everyone "death" at the Khats fest surprise appearance, where he introduced the Pointed Sticks, but I was glad he was back on the scene. Actually, that reminds me - at that fest, he made a slight bit of fun of me in my zombie attire (muttering "play Misty for me" when I introduced myself afterwards, like clearly, all zombied up, I must have been just another total nutjob in his fandom; it was kind of offensive to me, actually, but, I mean, what can you do when someone treats you like a lunatic, if you're dressed like a fucking zombie?)

Later I wrote him some fan mail and sent him a package, via a friend, of about ten unopened Vultura Freeway CDs that I found at a thrift store, since I figured he could sell them for merch. I never heard back, but I hadn't really expected to.

My next experience with Art, I don't know what happened. I wrote a review for the Straight that got me in a fair bit of hot water. I have run out of excuses for that review, and have actually eaten humble to a few of the people who gave me shit in the comments section (including Aaron Chapman and Jim Cummins, who have both apparently forgiven me). What can I say? I was pissed off that night that a girl I liked, who KNEW I was into her, spent part of that gig, at the WISE, telling me about her boyfriend problems, which connected me to bitter feelings and memories of my own (I was a "high school loser who never made it with the ladies", who girls wanted to be "friends" with, you know? I got a free ticket back to a time I'd hoped I'd left in the past, that evening - which was hardly Art's fault). Add to that that I was there WITH a woman I'd been previously intimate with, whose pants I suddenly wasn't able to get into anymore, and that I was a bit high, and that my life was slowly falling apart in other ways, with illness and job worries and so forth circling around me; my mindset wasn't great, and I took it out on Art a little - maybe feeling just a bit pissed off at him for indulging his darkness, when I was trying at that point to escape my own, which had absolutely nothing to do with anything I invited or cultivated in my own life. And Art really did seem fucked up to me that evening, mopping his face with beer-soaked towels and letting between song interludes drone on interminably, sometimes while demanding that the band wouldn't play again until drinks were brought to the stage... I concede now that he may not have been drunk, as I asserted that he appeared to be. Still, somewhere, thinking about what I'd seen that night, before writing the review, I decided that Art had a very, very destructive muse, and I wanted to take him to task for it. I still don't fully understand why I wrote what I did - I actually meant it to be a kind of positive review, as I said in my defense in the deluge of comments that followed, about how, special pleading or no, Art had pulled a strong, solid, powerful show - if slightly audience-torturing - out of the jaws of a potential trainwreck, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor. But I kind of came to accept that the shit that fell on heaven from me afterwards, from every direction but maybe a couple of friends, was totally deserved by me. I slunk away shamed, like I'd written an editorial defending cultural appropriation or something.

Whatever it was, I stopped being able to listen to Art Bergmann, or go to his shows, for a few years after that. I hadn't meant to do that to myself. Part of it was not wanting anyone to get hostile with me in PERSON, which seemed more than possible, given how hostile people got online; but part of it was, somehow, in my own writing, I'd wrecked my appreciation for the guy's music, which I'd only recently acquired. Maybe my own guilt got the better of me? I missed his Commdore show, his Fox show, didn't buy his two new albums; I was glad he made them, just as I had been delighted to welcome him back to performing after the Richards on Richards gig, but now, thanks to my own assholish writeup, I suddenly I felt like I wasn't welcome in the crowd. (And who needs ditties about spousal-and-substance abuse when life is so full of problems that you DON'T bring on yourself?)

Last night - for complicated reasons involving a difficult friend, and a desire to get OUT of whatever swamp I'd mired myself in, in my own head at least -  I went to see Art Bergmann again at the Rickshaw. I paid to get in, and bought both his new albums - though not the new reissue, since I have the CD already. It was more about atonement than desire: I had to make up for past disrespect.

Turns out the show was really good. I was excited with the opening couple of tracks, like a country-tinged "Message From Paul," off his recent reissue Remember Her Name (I have the 1991 original, though now that I've spun it again, I'm tempted to get the vinyl, too). That was followed by a political number, "Drones for Democracy," which set the tone for a powerful night, with a controlled noise jam stretching out the song that brought the obvious debt to Neil Young and Crazy Horse to the fore. It was a great show; I'd probably have enjoyed it even more if I'd acquainted myself with ANY of Art's new material before the show, but I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about any of it before I went. Paul Rigby did some amazing stuff, switching between mandolin and slide guitar; I missed the other band member's names, but they did a great job keeping up with Art, who was at times alarmingly physical for a guy who had a stool onstage with him (most older artists who start a show seated - I'm thinking of David Thomas and BB King - stay in their seats for the whole night, but not Art, who got pretty physical at times). The tune ups and between-song chaos were minor compared to the WISE gig, and the night climaxed in a great reading of "Dirge No. 1," which I could later be heard singing to myself as I walked home from the Skytrain. (My cancer-surgery-induced lisp actually suits Art's songs quite well).  No band members got throttled, as Tony Walker briefly had when he pissed off Art at Richards. Art did seem to have moments of violent disgust that flickered across his face while performing - I've never seen an artist put so much of his inner life on display while onstage - but he also smiled plenty. He kept his shades on the whole night, remained apparently skeptical about his "comeback success," and at the end of the evening, hilariously and unexpectedly, to fill out the contracted runtime I guess, brought a few audience members onstage - pulling them up himself in a couple of cases, arthritis be damned - to shake shakers and congas and tambourines for a wackily impromptu dance party, with a few extemporaneous bits of, um, "poetry" from Art - which he chuckled at, too, as he delivered it. It was the end of the night, and resulted in nothing remotely resembling a song; Dave Bowes and Mo Tarmohamed both could be seen grinning in delight, commenting to me afterwards how brilliant it was. It was particularly nice to see Jon Card on stage during this segment of the evening; I've worried about him a bit since he lost two close friends and bandmates in short succession, and he didn't look so hot the last time I saw him, briefly getting onstage with Gerry Hannah at the WISE to sing along with "I Got Religion," but he sure looked to be having fun last night, and looked pretty healthy to boot.

Mostly, in deciding to go, I just wanted the WISE gig, tainted as it was by my own cuntishness, not to be my last experience of Art Bergmann. I shot two video clips, here and here...  There's definitely no one else remotely like him in the Canadian music scene - Neil Young maybe comes closest, but I'd actually say in terms of songwriting craft, late Art Bergmann kicks the shit out of late Neil Young (I'd rather hear "Drones for Democracy," on Songs for the Underclass, than ANY of Neil's recent anti-war stuff, which just seems lazy to me, the product of so much success that Young knows he can get away with anything: "I'll write whatever comes to mind over my coffee and those will be the lyrics." That sure ain't how it feels reading Art's lyric sheets).

Art Bergmann live at the Rickshaw, May 19, 2017 by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Speaking of which, if you haven't heard it yet, and like songs of experience (and don't mind a caustic, bitter edge), The Apostate is turning out to be a fantastic album. I went from feeling like I was enacting an obligation in buying it, forcing myself to shell out $25 I could scarcely afford, to it being the album I'm most excited to listen to, and I've spun it three times through since the show the other night (you're not supposed to play a record more than once every 24 hours, didja know, to avoid wearing out the grooves, or I'd have spun it more often than that).The wit on it is savage as ever: for instance, in two lines, about a song about the experience of settlers, he goes from feeding the women and children first to eating the women and children first; you can't really argue with the truth of it. Paul Rigby is an MVP on it, as on stage. My early favourite tune, "Town Called Mean," is sung from the point of view of a hired gun called in to settle political troubles in a town, and apparently was inspired by Pinkerton-turned-novelist Dashiell Hammett (see video clip two). It has a pleasantly, disturbingly sing-a-long kinda chorus, about how evil has been good to the singer.

As ever, I'm not sure that that's autobiographical, on Art's part - if he actually feels like he HAS been evil in his indulgences or his career choices; or if his comeback success is strong enough that he can un-ironically proclaim that he's getting it good, finally. He might just be taking on a character, I don't know; maybe Donald Trump? But I haven't heard a richer, more interesting, more personally potent album from anyone in a long time, and I'm really glad I bought it. It would have been better if I'd bought it BEFORE the show, of course, so I could have enjoyed these songs more live, but things happened the way they did for a reason, maybe. Important thing is, after a few years away, I'm back to enjoying Art Bergmann's music.

Hope Art doesn't mind my inviting myself back in, here - it's not like he WANTS my attentions, you know? But maybe he'll play Misty for me sometime... or do an acoustic, Design-Flaw type show in Vancouver, hopefully not too long from now, after I've had a chance to digest some of these new songs more fully.

Promising now that I'll be there if he does.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Film roundup: new Kelly Reichardt, Demme Jam, The Transfiguration and more

I have loved some of the films of Kelly Reichardt - Old Joy and Night Moves especially - and respected others (River of Grass, Wendy and Lucy, and Meek's Cutoff). She makes films that are both intensely observant and gentle, that are quiet but rich, that assume left-leaning liberal points of view but also do much to undercut and challenge them -- as with Night Moves, her previous film, which deals with a group of eco-saboteurs who make a horrible mistake, and then have to find a way to live with the repercussions of that; that her characters fuck up and do morally questionable things made the film an uncomfortable experience, perhaps, for people who expected cause-oriented flag waving, but there is nothing particularly simple or uni-dimensional about Reichardt's universe; there are actions, and consequences, and coming to terms with those consequences, which may or may not be possible to do - and which may not happen in the course of the films, which are comfortable with open-ended, unresolved endings. I have tried enough times without success to interview her that I don't try very hard now; she's clearly a woman who prefers to DO the work than talk about it, as her nearly silent commentary track to Old Joy will amply demonstrate. She is not, however, a difficult person, it seems: she has a rep as a tough interview, but she seemed very friendly and personable during the Skype chat with the audience the Cinematheque organized last year. I am not sure why I'm not entirely feelin' it (yet!) around her newest film Certain Women - which I was excited about last year, when I first heard about it during the Cinematheque's Reichardt retrospective, but which took a very long time to actually get any screen presence at all in Vancouver. Maybe I've just had too much else on my mind this year? I'm going to try to make it to the Cinematheque tomorrow to see it, in any case. For some reason, the distributors are being stingy about making screeners available (even though it's already out on DVD!), so I haven't been able to preview it, but I'll try to note reactions ASAP after I catch the first screening. Michelle Williams, whom I've liked in everything I've seen her in, is in it, as is Laura Dern (capable of fine work, but seldom onscreen these days) and Kristen Stewart, who I think is a highly capable, under-rated actress. I don't think I know Lily Gladstone yet, whom the Cinematheque writeup describes as "a revelation;" she has had only one other feature film role to my knowledge, an adaptation of James Welch's novel Winter in the Blood (authentically First Nations, I believe - I don't THINK Welch is a white guy). She has an interesting face, in any case (bottom one on the poster, above).

There is plenty coming up elsewise at the Cinematheque to note - from Sunday's Afternoon with Marv Newland programme this weekend to a chance, not too far off, to see Stephen Chow's delightful, silly Kung Fu Hustle - his follow up to Shaolin Soccer - on screen, as part of a retrospective of Hong Kong cinema. Also coming soon, there's a restored Bogart cult classic I haven't seen, which I believe plays tonight alongside the Reichardt movie, and free screenings of three Canadian films - Atom Egoyan's most self-hating and cringe-inducingly embarrassing film, Calendar; Michael Snow's classic of experimental cinema, Wavelength; and Alanis Obomsawin's documentary about the Oka crisis, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, which I might just check out for what it reveals about a favourite film of mine, Clear Cut, informed by events at Oka. Plus the Cinematheque's 24 Hour Movie Marathon is back; I've never attended and doubt I will this time - it's the sort of thing I would have eaten up twenty five years ago, but which sounds daunting now; still it's a hell of a fun-sounding idea (made vastly more appealing by their new, improved seats - which aren't that new anymore, but are still the most comfortable seats the Cinematheque has had since I started going in the 1980's).

Meantime at the Vancity Theatre, there is a documentary of the moment about the housing crisis and homelessness in Vancouver, called Vancouver: No Fixed Address; a pretty unique-sounding animated film called My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea; and - a little further into the future, a tribute to filmmaker Jonathan Demme, Demme Jam, another FREE event, where (I believe the idea is) people will introduce and talk about their favourite clips from Jonathan Demme's films. There are some of Demme's films that I have not yet seen, but based on what I have seen, I think Demme's concert films are where he really shines; you don't realize just how intelligently and beautifully filmed and edited a work like Stop Making Sense - his Talking Heads film - is until you take a look at almost all other concert films and see what a mess people usually make of the form, with zooming cameras and choppy edits which I suppose are designed to imitate the music, but which often make it absolutely impossible to just watch and appreciate the musicians at work. Demme is great at that, however; he has tremendous respect for the performers onstage, knows that people want to watch them and that what they are doing - making music - is inherently interesting on screen, without gimmick or glitz. He mostly stays out of the way of the process, taking a fairly calm, observational approach, while still providing plenty of pleasing details and asides. Storefront Hitchcock, showcasing Robyn Hitchcock, performing in, yes, an empty storefront, is filmed with a slightly different eye from Stop Making Sense, but with just as much restraint and intelligence. (Swimming to Cambodia, if you count that as a concert film, is also an old favourite of mine, though somewhat marred by Spalding Gray's later suicide, which he orchestrated in such a way that his family fretted for some time before his body was found; it's a shitty way to go, not that being found dead in your hotel room is much better).

After that, there are four categories I place Demme's films in - of the ones I've seen; I've missed some of his early Corman productions,  did not see his Wallace Shawn/ Andre Gregory collaboration, A Master Builder, and never got around to Melvin and Howard, which I'm told by a couple of people that I respect is his best film. Of the ones I have seen, there are those that I think are near brilliant (Rachel Getting Married - pictured above - almost arrives at times in Cassavetean territory, depicting familial conflict and awkwardness around a wedding ceremony, and seems his best non-concert film); those that I really would like to like more than I do (his Hitchcockian Last Embrace, with some great work from Roy Scheider and an ending that fails so hard I put it out of my mind every time I see it, which apparently requires me to see it again every now and then to remind myself that he fucks it up); those that I respected and enjoyed, but have no investment in or attachment to, like Philadelphia, Married to the Mob, and Something Wild - all very fun films, but outside my usual areas of passion; and those that annoy me for one reason or another, either because they're too crass (the unsubtle exploitations and hammy Hopkinsisms of Silence of the Lambs), too cute (his trivial remake of Charade, The Truth About Charlie, which ACTUALLY PROPOSES TO REPLACE CARY GRANT WITH MARK WAHLBERG, ferfucksake), or so annoyingly unnecessary and ill-advised that they offend my love of cinema (his remake of The Manchurian Candidate - though now I want to see that again, since it seems Robyn Hitchcock actually acts in it, something I had forgotten about entirely; his brief appearance in Rachel Getting Married just involves him singing songs at the wedding in the film, which isn't exactly a stretch).  A video mix of inspired moments across his catalogue might just be a very fun way to appreciate his work. (RIP Jonathan Demme, by the way, and Chris Cornell and Spalding Gray and anyone else dead - Michael Parks, Powers Boothe, I just don't have time to keep up with obits these days!). 

Finally (for this blogpost, anyhow) there is a moody, smart and I gather ultimately quite horrifying indy vampire film, The Transfiguration, which I think will excite anyone who likes horror movies (but doesn't mind them subdued and reflective). One obvious comparison is to George A. Romero's Martin, since it deals with a contemporary vampire, a young man who has seen Let the Right One In and deems it superior ("more realistic") to either Twilight or True Blood, and whose vampirism is an extension of his growing up alienated and lonely, a way of trying to figure out who he is and where he fits. He happens to be black. The film begins provocatively enough: a man at a public urinal hears sucking sounds coming from a bathroom stall, peeps under the stall door (actually GETS DOWN ON THE BATHROOM FLOOR to do this, something I would really not consider), and presumes when he sees two men inside that something gay is going on. Nope: turns out, as we enter the stall, that it's Milo, our protagonist, who is sucking the blood from the neck of what appears to be a dead white businessman; once he's done, Milo steals the man's money, which he ends up hiding behind his shelf of vampire-themed VHS tapes (he's also a big fan of slaughterhouse documentaries). A whole bunch of flags go up: is this somehow going to use vampirism to show young urban black youth "preying" on whites? Is it going to somehow equate vampirism with homosexuality? Is there going to be - as with the source novel for Let the Right One In - an element of pedophilia here? (Milo is barely a teenager). I tend to respond to the first moments of a movie like they contain a thesis statement, hidden or not, and a few bells were ringing; but quickly I found myself fascinated by Milo, his life, and his relationship to an even lonelier, self-harming white girl who moves into his building. I actually haven't finished the film yet, have managed to keep myself from knowing where it is going, but I think I can already confidently recommend it. It screens one time only at the Vancity Theatre at 10:15 PM tomorrow (Saturday) night. Reichardt fans would probably like it, and will probably be happy to see Larry Fessenden - whom I spoke to last year about his role in Reichardt's River of Grass - popping up in the film (he seems to get his throat cut in most movies he has cameos in lately, so I'm wondering how long he'll last in this one).

Monday, May 01, 2017

Happy Birthday David M! Seeya at the Princeton!

Off to the Princeton tonight for David M.'s birthday show. He's made at least some of his posts on Facebook private, lately, for personal reasons, but people wanting a great FREE set of music tonight should definitely check it out - you're not going to get a better set of music played live for you without payin' a cover charge, and he'll be doing some songs in tribute to the late, great Paul Leahy (that included Bowie, Mott the Hoople, and, if I recall correctly, even Queen covers the last time he did this at the Heritage Grill). Plus there will be guests, and the atmosphere of the Princeton is very congenial ("the new Railway club, with better trains," he's been heard to quip). Here's his vintage poster for the night...

The Evil Within: ESSENTIAL CULT MOVIE, and not just for Michael Berryman fans

I read a very interesting article the other day on Dangerous Minds about a film I had not previously heard or read anything about - but which I had seen on DVD at Walmart about a week ago. It's called The Evil Within - not to be confused with the video game of the same name. They proclaimed it to be a "minor masterpiece," and made it sound interesting indeed.

Today, we had to stop at Walmart again to pick up some meds, so - since it cost a mere $10 - I picked the film up. Ended up snagging it on DVD, as there were no Blu's, and took it home, where I just now finished watching it with Erika. We had previously, having seen a terrific late-career turn by Judy Davis recently in The Dressmaker, settled on Barton Fink for the movie of the evening, but watching the first five minutes of The Evil Within while Erika sorted some fabric in the bedroom convinced me that Barton Fink could wait: we HAD to see the film tonight (or, well, I had to, but she proved quite obliging, and I think she appreciated it, too). I'm very glad we saw it. It's going to become one of those movies that I won't shut up about, I suspect - it is REMARKABLE and ESSENTIAL, a film everyone who cares about cult movies or horror movies needs to see. "Minor masterpiece" may actually be underselling it. It's one of a kind, and probably always will be, the sort of film experience - a deranged vanity project-cum-labour of love - which can never, ever be repeated (especially given that its author is dead).

But I'll get back to the film itself in just a second.

First off, let me admit that it doesn't come in a very promising-looking package (more or less as you see above). I mean, on the one hand, it's absolutely terrific that Michael Berryman is on the box art of a DVD again. Other than The Hills Have Eyes and Cut and Run, I'm unaware of any other films, in cinema history, that have had him on the poster/ box;  so I'm glad that there's a new one. I guess I had presumed, after seeing just how little use Rob Zombie put him to in The Lords of Salem, that his career was very nearly at an end, that maybe he wasn't really able to act anymore, since Zombie didn't really require anything much of him besides waving a torch around (he's one of the puritans in the "witch hunt" sequence of the film - but blink and you'll miss him. Bad film, by the way). Based on that, I hadn't expected to see him in anything more than a cameo ever again; after all, he's 68 years old, and who knows what sort of health he might be in, given his physical irregularities.

But, happy for Berryman though I might have been, it's still not a very promising bit of box art, in terms of making you want to see the movie, because - standing there at Walmart, without having read word one about The Evil Within - my thought process went something like, "if all this film has going for it to market itself is capitalizing on the cult status of Michael Berryman, it must be pretty awful." I mean- sure, the marketing for The Hills Have Eyes capitalizes on Berryman's unusual appearance, too, and The Hills Have Eyes is great, but it's not like the people who were making the posters were trying to trade in people's familiarity with Berryman when they designed the poster, because he was pretty much unknown until that movie came out. No, they just wanted a memorable, menacing-looking face to stare out at the audience. Mission accomplished - it's a great poster, and a real coup for Berryman, especially when you take into account that he isn't even the main bad guy in the movie.

But - especially if his role in The Evil Within was just a cameo (which  - before I'd seen it, looking at the box in Walmart, seemed highly likely), by sticking Berryman on the cover of a DVD now... well, it just seemed a lazy move, a cash in that PROBABLY revealed nothing about the content of the film, which is how these things seem to usually work. It reminded me of those public domain DVDs you see of The Swap or Born to Lose that stick Robert DeNiro's mug on the cover (or did back when DeNiro was actually a hot property; you mostly seem to see him nowadays in direct-to-DVD stuff that you've never heard of until you find it in a thrift store). DeNiro is barely in either film, as I understand it, and fans of his will be sorely disappointed if they expect to see him; it's just a lazy bait and switch, a marketing gimmick, and I presumed this was the same thing. Some Z-grade low budget horror film was made, they gave Berryman a cameo, then stuck him on the box, because they knew that the rest of the film had NOTHING ELSE GOING FOR IT. How could it be anything but terrible? That's why I didn't pick the thing up last week.

My cynicism, while completely reasonable, all things considered, in fact says nothing about this gem of a film. Berryman is merely a cherry on top. While he has far more than a cameo - hell, he has a speaking part! - his being in the film isn't really essential to its merits, any more than the (small but notable) appearance by the late giant Matthew McGrory (also from a Rob Zombie film, as it happens). The film would stand on its own regardless of who they cast in Berryman's role.

That's not to exonerate the marketers; in fact, it kinda demonstrates just how bad a job they've done with this art. It also didn't seem particularly promising that the description of the film on the back of the case listed as one of his claims to fame - besides The Hills Have Eyes - Berryman's appearance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Yes, he's in that film, and yes, it's a film that has name-recognition, even among the unwashed, but as anyone who recalls him in the movie will know, he basically just lies in bed and drools the whole time; I don't think he even has a line of dialogue. It would be like a DVD release of a movie featuring Chris Desjardins listing Lethal Weapon as one of his accomplishments; sure, Chris D. is IN Lethal Weapon (and people know the name of that movie, more than they might know I Pass For Human or Border Radio), but he only appears onscreen for all of a second, and his only role is to be shot in the head and fall down.

Upshot is, I am very, very grateful to Dangerous Minds for doing the job the marketers failed so miserably to do, and pointing me squarely at this movie. I've always been impressed with their articles, but here, they've done the whole horror/ cult movie world a big favour by advocating for this very weird, very potent, very memorable movie.

But that's about all I'm going to say for now. This film is the most exciting cult movie  I've encountered since Donnie Darko or Beyond the Black Rainbow (or,  um, maybe Tommy Wiseau's The Room, though it is vastly more accomplished and competent). It has a few moments where its logic breaks down, where it doesn't quite work, attempting things - mostly in the last act - that it fails to explain or properly contextualize, which might provoke some film viewers to reject the movie, but in no way is this a bad film. Made - if I'm recalling the article correctly - as a labour of love over a fifteen year period by a now-deceased, drug-addicted heir to millions, Andrew Getty, it's a thoroughly unique mindfuck, involving a mentally challenged man who has disturbing nightmares, which start to bleed over into his life. It's a film where at various points "real world logic" breaks down to be replaced with a sort of surreal nightmare logic, where you're left wondering in the face of impossible (or improbable) turns of event what ACTUALLY happened, outside the delusions of the main character; you'll never know. It's maybe a flawed film - it appears Getty died before it was wholly finished - though it feels quite complete, and mostly works quite brilliantly, even if it requires a couple of moments of charity on the viewers' parts.

It's surely the most important cult movie in decades - Donnie Darko, Beyond the Black Rainbow, The Room and now The Evil Within. Plus it has a remarkable central performance, from Frederick Koehler, whose face is the one that should be staring out from the DVD box. He's great - playing a mentally challenged person so convincingly that you wonder if the actor is in fact mentally challenged, until you meet his alter ego.

My strong suspicion is, because the filmmaker is dead and the people marketing The Evil Within appear not to know what they're doing - having, with their lousy, lazy box art, alienated someone who absolutely LOVED the movie, when he saw it with no thanks to them - that The Evil Within is going to fall between the cracks (it's nice to see Blumhouse is spreading the word, too, though; there is only one review, as I write this, on Rotten Tomatoes. There isn't even a critic's blurb about the film on the box, though no doubt they could have gotten a good one if they weren't so bloody lazy). I feel like it almost by accident that I saw this movie. I had heard no buzz about it besides the Dangerous Minds article. I haven't heard about a midnight movie screening at the Rio. No one I know who knows the sort of movies I like has taken pains to recommend it to me. Word of mouth is what's going to bring this film to light, so it falls on those of us who care to a) see this film! and b) tell people about it!

You will want to. Just trust me, folks - if you like cult horror movies, if you like movies that take you inside a damaged subjectivity, if you want to have a memorable - admittedly somewhat lowbrow, but abundantly thought-provoking cinematic experience that you will want to see more than once, see The Evil Within as soon as possible (and note: probably better off if you DON'T see it on psychotropic drugs, eh? If you're inclined to do that thing, opt for Beyond the Black Rainbow instead, because there's one nightmare scene that will send you screaming out of the room if you catch this in an altered state). It's the most interesting film I've taken in since I saw The Lobster - but that movie didn't need my help to get the word out.

Thanks again, Dangerous Minds!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Welcome back, Kid Congo!

Kid Congo Powers in 2015, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

On Wednesday, storied Gun Club/ Cramps guitarist Kid Congo Powers returns to Vancouver, this time for a show at the Commodore Ballroom, with his band the Pink Monkey Birds; they'll be opening for punk rock "supergroup"/ cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes - a band I have not followed, but who sound like they might be amusing indeed (their last album featured covers of "I Will Survive" and "My Heart Will Go On," apparently. I actually hadn't realized until just today that Kid Congo wasn't headlining!). I spoke to Kid Congo Powers at great length when he played the Rickshaw last year. Portions of that are viewable on the Westender website; others are on my blog. Much of it only saw print in Germany in Ox Fanzine and in two recent issues of Big Takeover magazine. There was some great stuff, which I will leave enthusiasts to find for themselves (Big Takeover should be easy enough to locate, and has vintage bev davies photos that haven't seen the light online, of Kid Congo playing at the Commodore with the Cramps, almost forty years ago. I wonder if he's been there since?).

The 80's return! Of Robyn Hitchcock, the Psychedelic Furs, and some very fun spring listening

Vintage shot of the Psychedelic Furs in Vancouver, Oct. 13, 1980 at the Commodore Ballroom, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

First up, a riddle: how is Robyn Hitchcock like Motörhead?

He isn't, really - BUT:

Maybe the most unfortunate thing about being a prolific, long-running artist is that there is a good chance that the people who loved you when they were in their teens and early 20's will stop following you by the time they hit thirty, and then continue for 20 years to evaluate you and appreciate you based SOLELY on the albums you put out when they were in their teens and early 20's, which is where they formed the deepest connection to your work. It's natural and inevitable - because maybe you only need two or three albums by a given artist in your collection; following someone through their entire catalogue is expensive and time consuming, and later albums by the same band sometimes lack the freshness and vitality of their early work. But it CAN be really unfortunate and unfair, when the artist in question continues to put out incredible albums, some very fresh and surprising, that only a slim portion of their demographic notices.

Of course, Motörhead is the archetype here: their reputation rests, even with proclaimed fans, on the albums up to Iron Fist and the departure of Fast Eddie. Which takes us up to 1982, when they still had seventeen studio albums to record. People who have delved have different takes on which are the best of those seventeen - I vote for Another Perfect Day, Bastards, Inferno, Kiss of Death and Motörizer. They're all incredible albums, and I think I would rank them above any of the "classic trio" recordings, which to me, despite a few favourites ("Stone Dead Forever," "We Are the Road Crew," "America") sound like a rough draft of the band they became. Stunning that people can go around proclaiming their love of the band without having ever even having heard their later records, though. It speaks of how iconic those first few albums are, but also of how conservative and limited people's musical explorations can be (I include myself in this, by the way - up until I had an interview scheduled with Lemmy, I hadn't gotten much past Iron Fist myself).

And then there's Robyn Hitchcock. My "peak" years of listening to him involved, first and foremost, Invisible Hitchcock - my first discovery of his catalogue, bought one day out of sheer curiosity, based on the cover art alone, at Odyssey Imports. It's still in a way my favourite of his releases, even though it's "only" a compilation of outtakes from his actual studio albums of the day. Most of the material on it, maybe all, came out as part of that Yep Roc box set, as a series of five LPs called While Thatcher Mauled Britain, but it's spread out among other tracks (many of which are brilliant, but lack that glow of familiarity). Every song on Invisible Hitchcock is a winner (well, a few are tossed-off experiments, but very fun and funny) - but especially "All I Wanna Do Is Fall in Love," which I've heard Hitchcock introduce (on a live fan recording I happened across) by explaining that he left it off his first solo album because it sounded too much like a hit. That's exactly what I always thought. It's one of those tunes the utter catchiness of which totally proves that there is nothing of a meritocracy in radio programming, because - even as an outtake - it should easily have risen to the surface of pop rock radio if the waters there weren't so sludgy with pollution.

"Vegetable Friend" is pretty delightful, too.

Anyhow, having started there, my "baby duck" years with Robyn Hitchcock included I Often Dream of Trains, Fegmania!, Element of Light, Globe of Frogs, Queen Elvis, and Eye - which takes us up to 1990. It was on the Eye tour that I saw him live, the only time I have, at the Town Pump with NO FUN opening (my first time seeing them live, too). I am not sure why I set him aside after that; I enjoyed the show, and loved at least bits of all those albums - Globe of Frogs especially - but I also saw him, around that time, say something on Much Music to VJ Christopher Ward that kind of hurt my feelings, since I enjoyed Ward most of the VJ's on that channel. As I recall it, he said that Ward smiled like someone you would offer a bribe to, and Ward visibly winced, stung; it seemed a cruel and gratuitous comment. Who knows what the interaction between the two had been like off the air, but I felt some sort of nationalistic defensiveness ("comes here and insults our TV personalities, bah!"). Plus around that time, I was getting into TAD and Soundgarden and grunge, craving music that was heavy and slightly nihilistic. At some point, I sold off my Hitchcocks and forgot about him - until he came through Vancouver a year or so ago, playing the Biltmore. I re-purchased Globe of Frogs and re-discovered how great it was: equal parts textural folk, almost approaching the fragility and beauty of Nick Drake, mixed with Syd Barrett and at least an awareness, on songs like "Sleeping With Your Devil Mask," of punk, albet a snarky surrealist's version of the same.

I didn't make it to that show. It was doomed on a couple of fronts: first, it was on the same night as a Reverend Horton Heat show at the Rickshaw, which I also wanted to see. As I hemmed and hawed, having to choose between them was taken out of my hands by my weird spell, last March, of infection and arthritis and swollen arms and feet. I saw neither show, but having productively re-explored Globe of Frogs led me on to harder things - like the Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight, which I'd never owned (I'd had Invisible Hits once upon a time, briefly). With a little help from file-sharing, I discovered that hey, a lot of the albums I used to like, I still liked!

But I'm as frail and baby-duckish as anyone, because it's over a year later, and though I've probably listened more to Robyn Hitchcock than any other single songwriter out there in that time, I've only just started exploring albums from the period I had completely ignored. Or at least two of them: 2004's Spooked, which is a very spare, pretty, haunting album, maybe his most Nick Drake-ish, for all you "Vegetable Friend" fans; and now his new self-titled one.

That new album is pretty good! It's a bit surprising, though. While Spooked is very much what you might expect Robyn Hitchcock to have sounded like in 2004 - a natural extension of what he was doing tweny years prior, that might lend itself to intimate acoustic shows, which maybe is what his audience had been reduced to come 2004 - there isn't any way to have guessed he'd sound like he does on the eponymous new one. It's like he's re-inventing himself as a rock band, with elements of psych and garage and a rather bold, assertive personality, like it could suddenly break through some wall he'd been previously content to shelter himself behind, ALMOST like a calculated move to capture a new, young audience, who don't give the slightest damn about "Ye Sleeping Knights of Jesus" but are hungrily looking backwards for time-tested "authenticity." It's kind of surprising a move for him to be making (to me, anyhow, who has ignored all his other recent output), though it's respectable enough, no sell out, even admirably smart. And one of the rock songs (the opener, "I Want to Tell You About What I Want") is instantly catchy and infectious, almost anthemic. (It would be an excellent lead up to "All I Wanna Do is Fall in Love," too, which has been on some of his recent setlists). The quirkiest "novelty" tune on the album, "I Pray When I'm Drinking," will start a lively discussion around your living room as to whether it owes more to Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, or Merle Haggard. Nothing else has quite hooked me yet, two listens in - it's not the sort of album that is a fast favourite, will take some time to digest and enter - but it's a very ambitious, confident album, kinda akin in relationship to his back catalogue to REM's Monster, which at the time seemed like a pretty big, bold rock album for so self-conscious, even self-effacing, a band to be making. I'm keen to hear him return to Vancouver, for an upcoming Commodore show, July 19th, where he'll be opening for the Psychedelic Furs. The material will be perfect for that venue - assuming he's bringing a full band with him.

And speaking of the Psychedelic Furs, they're another band I'm also listening to lately. My departed friend Thomas Ziorjen used to argue for their debut album, and I agree - with songs like "Fall" and "Sister Europe" - that it is a great record, an adventurous, spiky New Wave album that has at least some debt to vintage Roxy Music. Even people who don't have much of a taste for their (later, more radio friendly) hits - "Love My Way," "Heaven," "Pretty in Pink" and so forth - will be able to get into the first album.

Here's the thing, though: FINALLY a band is coming that perfectly fits my nostalgia for the 1980's. Because I feel it, too, now: even though I ignored most of the popular music of the time, heard 20 years on, there's a warm fond glow around it, and it's very easy to be generous to how creative and clever some of it is. Even stuff that actively annoyed me when it was a hit in the 1980's - Eddy Grant's "Electric Avenue," say - seems kind of brilliant to me, now that I'm older, to the extent that I'm almost embarrassed by my coming around, being swayed by the tides of aging to embrace things I had once rejected wholesale. It's not even a matter of nostalgia for music that you loved in your youth, regardless of how it might fit with the rest of a band's output. THAT makes a kind of sense; I mean, the Kinks' Give The People What They Want will always rank as my personal favourite Kinks album, no matter how small it seems objectively beside The Village Green Preservation Society or Muswell Hillbillies, because it was the Kinks album that introduced me to the band (AND the album I got to see toured). You can't get away from that. But nostalgia for stuff that you found annoying and substandard the first time around...? How does that work, exactly?

However - while that sort of "change-of-heart" nostalgia does exist for me, where songs that once irritated me now kind of charm me, the truth is, I kind of ALWAYS enjoyed the "hits" of the Psychedelic Furs. I recognized quality in stuff like "Love My Way," I was just embarrassed by it, because it was girlish (maybe gayish!) and commercially safe, and nothing at all like HARDCORE PUNK, which was my staple food back then. I liked it - I just didn't have the guts to embrace it. It does help the cause that the Psychedelic Furs were kind of forgotten by 80's-nostalgia radio, so that, unlike Soft Cell or Simple Minds or such, the songs that I was embarrassed to find myself enjoying back then haven't been drilled into my head every time I'm in proximity to an FM broadcast. They retain, along with the sheen of backwards-looking fondness, a bit of freshness - which makes them fair game for nostalgia. The only thing that is changed is that I no longer give much of a damn, as an adult, that what I like be cool or tough or edgy or whatever. I have much more space for beautifully crafted pop now...

...which is all over this Best of the Psychedelic Furs CD I picked up, which has a range of material from throughout their career, which sounds all remarkably of a piece now (where it would have sounded, I dunno, "pre-and-post sellout" to me back in the mid-1980's). The differences between "Love My Way" and "Fall" are slim enough now to me that both sound great, in slightly different ways. People with a similar guilty fondness for 1980's pop, looking for a show to go to, could probably fare worse than seeing Robyn Hitchcock OPEN for the Psychedelic Furs at the Commodore this summer. It's actually a perfect lineup - especially given Hitchcock's new material, which will, I suspect, fill the Commodore's space in ways people simply won't be expecting, this should be one hell of a concert, whether you are old enough to feel 80's nostalgia or not...

By the by, I believe at the very least the drummer of the Psychedelic Furs plays on "All I Want to Do is Fall in Love" - Robyn Hitchcock is friendly with the P-Furs, I gather, and has been for some time. Should only add to the concert...

The Psychedelic Furs live at the Commdore, Oct. 13 1980, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

I was going to continue this by expressing my delight with this funky, rocking Muddy Waters album I found for $2 at a Dollarama - Electric Mud; and to say a bit about Richard Thompson, coming in May to Salt Spring Island, whose last album with Linda Thompson, Shoot Out the Lights, has really grabbed me of late - but I have things to do. But that's what I'm listening to this spring: Robyn Hitchcock, the Psychedelic Furs, Richard Thompson, and Electric Mud. I'm digressing occasionally too into bands some of these people have been in, like the Soft Boys or Fairport Convention. When I need a change, I put on a John Renbourn (or Pentangle) album. It's all pretty lively, exciting, positive music to fill a spring with, maybe even a summer. Pretty delighted that I'm going to be able to reinforce some of these pleasures with live shows...

Thursday, April 27, 2017

My mouth and the real world

So I've been told repeatedly by my oncologist that it would take six weeks for my mouth to recover completely. We're midway through week five. I've got insecurities galore. I still get what I am told is referred pain in my throat and ear, which was a symptom of the cancer, and sometimes I think: if the cancer is all gone - as my oncologist, who apparently has quite a bit of faith in his own judgment, says is likely the case - then why do I still have this symptom? (He explained that it's because all the nerves are connected, and end up going through the same bundle or channel or whatever, so that any damage to the nerve will show up in unexpected areas nearby. Maybe that is the case - my nerves in my tongue were certainly affected by the operation - but surely it also may be the case that I still have pain because I still have cancer! I mean, how would they really KNOW? ...all they've tested since December is chunks they've removed from me, I've had no MRIs, no CT scans, nothing to see if there are other lumps or lesions or things previously undetected; the only thing besides my negative December CT scan that I've got to go on is the eyeballs of my oncologist, who looked in my mouth and throat and said he didn't need to do anything more, because he could see the cancer plain as day - so why did he need a photo of it?). I've also got pain in my jaw, which I have never been able to explain to myself: did they have my mouth yanked way open for the operation, or is that referred pain too?

The real challenge is that I don't know how to think about any of this stuff. Even pain is complex, an unreliable index of what's happening, because I was kept on pain meds more or less from the first moment of the operation, having been giving fetanyl and morphine in hospital, and then being sent home with dilaudid (sorry, you dopefiends, it is all gone). Because of this constant, proactive, don't-let-pain-get-a-foothold approach to pain management - a fine idea, mind you, but it has its downside - I have no idea what my "baseline" for pain should be - what my level of pain is when NOT medicated. And now that I've been downgraded to Tylenol 3's, I don't know which of my worsening discomforts - in my throat, say, which started hurting more on Sunday, with worsening discomfort when I swallow - might be due to my not HAVING as much medication in my system. Maybe the pain I'm feeling is just because I have less powerful meds in me? Maybe it's referred pain, which tends to come and go - or maybe it's because there's STILL SOMETHING THERE. How am I supposed to be able to tell? Even at my calmest, it's all subject to interpretation and guesswork. All I know is - I don't feel so hot.

Better, but not great.

And then there's the BC medical system. While having a two tier system like the Liberals would love to introduce would no doubt be worse - the rich could get treated pronto and the poor would get even LONGER wait times - there are still huge waits built in. My oncologist told me that he'd see me again in July, and that I'd have an MRI done before then, in my throat, to confirm that I'm all clear; that seemed fine - but I figured the MRI would happen sooner, rather than later. Turns out - I found from calls to the hospital on Monday - that the MRI isn't scheduled for two months, at the end of June. What if - as I can easily believe - there has been something growing in my throat since last September, when I first got symptoms? (This all began, recall, as a lump in my lymph node, which I saw doctors about in October, though no cancer was diagnosed until early March, I think it was). What if the pain in the hinge of my jaw is because the cancer spread there from my adjacent tongue? Shouldn't I agitate to get to the MRI sooner, rather than later? But EVERYONE ELSE IN QUEUE BEFORE ME has medical issues too, which may be more SERIOUS than mine. Should I just wait patiently and stoically,, while cancer possibly spreads in my throat and jaw, for my turn, or be a squeaky wheel, and ask if my oncologist can move the appointment ahead? My throat pain was sufficient on Monday that I actually made calls about this, and booked time to see him tomorrow, but now I'm worried that I'm going to annoy him, and spread him thinner than he already is spread thin, over what might just be referred pain. I could be hogging the resources that people sicker than I could use. He has told me that all test results show I am cancer free (so far). Can I afford to trust the system? Should I just suck it up and be patient?

My father was very patient.

Anyhow, I'm back to music and film blogging, as you see. I'm gearing up to start (optimistically) looking for work. I'm actually feeling a bit better than I did yesterday, and yesterday I felt a bit better than I did on Monday. Maybe I should cancel tomorrow's appointment, and spare myself the wrath of a doctor who thinks I'm just being a hypersensitive wimp? (And, I mean, I wouldn't want him to think I was challenging his judgment of things; he's spent all of five minutes examining me, but maybe he's such a whiz that that's enough?),

Dunno. I feel okay - tongue's a bit sore, a bit of discomfort when I swallow, and my speech is still affected, but it's really not bad, especially considering I haven't had any pain meds today at all. And I'm not going to, for awhile yet: I'm going to pop an allergy med, because my eyes are getting itchy - but at least THAT symptom I know has everything to do with the cat.

That's where I am today, re: cancer. Now I'm going to go listen to a Richard Thompson record.

Missed one! An Evening of Motorhead

Almost neglected to mention that also this weekend, there's a Motörhead tribute at Pat's Pub on Friday.  Car 87, Motorama, the Fucking Unicorns - click the link to see who is playing.

I will now - because I have no clue how to find an umlaut on my keyboard - go find the name "Motörhead" elsewhere online WITH the umlaut, cut the "ö," and paste it in every time I have written the word "Motörhead."

By the way, if you haven't read it, my BC Musician interview with wendythirteen is online here. And lest you think I received payment for what is obviously an ad, below, no, I didn't, I just cut and pasted it from the No Bollocks page, in the absence of any other graphic:

Oh, apparently Betty Bathory has something going on - or the Squidling Brothers do, whoever they are, and she's helping plug it. That's on Monday, which (see previous post) I'm already double booked for. But anyhow...

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Billy Hopeless, David M, Jack Fucking Keating, and Kitty and the Rooster

Too much going on over the next few days...! Lotta cool music in the city, and I'm not even going to MENTION D.R.I at the Rickshaw tonight, because, y'know, it's sold out. I might even go see some of it - because a small show in an intimate environment by a brilliant, unhyped local band is a far, far better thing - aesthetically, emotionally, spiritually and economically - than a huge show in a faceless arena by an overhyped mediocre one.

Billy Bonito's benefit for Jay Millette, Jaystock, is on Friday at the SBC Cabaret, with the Spitfires, Stab'Em In the Abdomen, the Ramores, and indeed, Billy Hopeless all playing... not sure what order, exactly, but I interviewed Billy here about it! (He's also popping up at the JFK gig below).

Also cool: my favourite new local band, Kitty and the Rooster, plays a show with Carolyn Mark and Twin Peaks on Saturday at Lanalou's. Brilliant, funny male/ female duo, whose new video about being renovicted just came out... just heard them on Co-op Radio, too! Really smart, funny, entertaining band. Note that at least one song on that spoof album cover ("Damp Cold") is a real song that they do!

David M. has his 62nd birthday bash on Monday at the Princeton - he'll be doing his set for Paul Leahy, and giving the second (?) public performance of a song he CO-WROTE WITH ME, or that I co-wrote with him, or something, which so far has only been seen or heard at my wedding, at least in his version of it. There will possibly be some Bowie and Mott the Hoople covers... I'm not sure what else he has planned, but it's going to be a big night for you NO FUN fans out there. I have told him to thin out the Gorgo references, for the benefit of young'uns who don't remember Gorgo (and who thus don't get the joke that there barely was anything Gorgo to remember) but he tends to ignore external input and just go ahead and do what he likes. As he should.

Also on May 1st, Jack "Fucking" Keating is going to do a JFK "fuck band" gig in tribute to Howard Rix and Brian Goble at the Revel Room (which I keep wanting to describe as the "Rumpus Room"), with Billy Hopeless, Joanie Keplter, Eddy Dutchman and others in attendance. I won't be there, since I'll be at David M's show - double booked on a Monday! - but I am sure it will be fun. I get the impression, when Jack talks to me at shows, that he has carried a folded up print out of the article I wrote on him in his back pocket ever since September 2013, so if anyone asks him what a fuck band is, he can just whip it out.He should just get it laminated, if you ask me - it must be getting pretty creasy by now. I talk to Billy a bit about that, too (see above).

That's some pretty fun stuff happening in a short time period... I can use some fun!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Canadian film geek on Netflix

I started on Netflix last week. My wife's parents signed up for it - we got them a smart TV as a thank you for their work in getting our wedding together - and it turns out they could get a "second screen" for Netflix for the same price as a single hi-def one. So we signed on. It's definitely a cost-effective model of disseminating culture, and it HAS been interesting - I don't think I've watched a movie on disc since we started - but, somewhat to my surprise, the selection of films available reminds me, more than anything else, of the New Arrivals wall at a video rental store. I had thought it might be different, thought it might be better...

Understand: I used to work at a Rogers Video out in Maple Ridge, back in the days of VHS, circa 1990. The store was old enough that it had rental copies on tape of movies dating back to nearly the start of the commercial release of home video, including a substantial library of exploitation and cult cinema - everything from Being Different, a somewhat notorious documentary "freaksploitation" film, to Alex Cox's playful spaghetti western homage Straight to Hell. The foreign film section was pretty scrawny, maybe fifty titles all told, including a few lesser Bergmans (The Magician, Summer with Monika), a lone Antonioni (L'Avventura), and, as I recall, one Ozu film, Floating Weeds. People looking to seriously educate themselves about classic cinema there were kind of out of luck, but if you were hungry for Golan Globus fare, we probably had it (except Love Streams, until I requested it be transferred in from another store).

It was all right, for awhile. Capitalism might be a deeply fucked up way of distributing culture, a way of guaranteeing that mediocrity will flourish and excellence go unnoticed, save for by the very few - but film geeks could, if they knew how the system worked, find ways to accomodate themselves to it and keep their cravings fed. You'd get customers who ignored the New Arrivals wall altogether, to spend an hour in the dustier sections, and come to the counter with Beastmaster, Deathstalker, and Yor: The Hunter from the Future (you could rent three older movies for $5 and keep them for a week, as opposed to the New Arrivals, which were, by the time I left, renting for five or six bucks a night). It helped that there was an idea implicit in the early days of maintaining a sizeable back catalogue, a library. It was easier when the industry was new and a video store could pretty much order in everything that was available; we had Bertrand Tavernier's "thinking person's SF film" Death Watch on the shelf, say - or that sleazy grindhouse classic Vice Squad, starring Wings Hauser - not because anyone had CHOSEN them for our catalogue, but because when they were released on home video in the mid-1980's, there simply wasn't that much competition for space, and not that much else coming out that month. Back then - at the very start - no one was trying to ram hit movies down the public's throats, either, since the forces of greed hadn't really figured out how much money could be made on home video; plus there were few enough videos being made that you COULD order one or two of everything in the distributors' catalogues and see how they fared.

All that changed at some point. Stores became overwhelmed with product, just as the greed of the industry proliferated and marketers became savvier. When I signed on to be a video store geek, Rogers would get fifty or more copies of forgettable crap like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which came complete with a promo tape that we, the mere staff, were instructed to play over the store TVs, to make sure we made money on the investment (I heard that fucking Bryan Adams song soooo many times...). Meantime, we would have maybe one copy, if that, of some "prestige" arthouse film, usually on the bottom shelf, unsung and unhyped and generally ignored by the people who came in to graze the New Arrivals wall. Some of that is stuff regarded as classic now - I don't imagine we had more than one Barton Fink, when it first came out, say. A fifty-to-one ratio of shit to food is hard to live on. And the more crap that was produced, the stricter competition was for shelf space, so that eventually we started selling off those items in the long tail, once they weren't generating enough income.  All other considerations (preserving or disseminating culture, educating people, raising the level of cultural discourse, or simply maintaining a stock of quality films) were secondary; the only question became, will we make money on it?

It wasn't that great a paradigm, but it did make a kind of sense.

I had thought Netflix might be a bit better. There's no opportunity for them to hype films to death in the way Rogers did for Robin Hood - no in-store promo tape to get your saliva flowing while you browse; there is smarter technology for hooking up consumers with films they will enjoy, and more more likelihood that quality will be recognized, as people see good movies and spread word of mouth, regardless of what marketers WANT to hype or what Netflix wants to push. Plus the whole idea of "shelf-space" is certainly different - presumably you could have a lot MORE films available on a service like this than in your average big-box video store. If distributors and copyright holders were paid given how many times their films were watched, rather than paid for the option of having the films on the system, it would serve to reinforce and reward quality. People would still have the same shitty tastes as ever, but I *think* at least some cream would rise to the surface...

It doesn't appear to work that way; at least here in Canada, there's a very limited supply of films on Netflix, which emphasize titles, stars, and subjects that are heavily in demand. Prestige/ long tail titles are about as scarce as they were on the Rogers New Arrival wall; and it terms of older films, Rogers actually did a fair bit better. I've spent almost as much time now searching the system to see what it has as I have watching shows on it, and I've been shocked at a bunch of things they simply do not have, and, weirder yet, don't even acknowledge the existence of.

I mean, I'm not an unreasonable guy. I had hoped that maybe, considering it is, after all, Canadian Netflix, that I might be able to see a few Canadian films I'd missed, so I picked a name from a hat and looked up Vancouver actor/ filmmaker Tom Scholte, for starters. Nope: he's not in their system at all, not even for big budget Hollywood stuff that he's done, like The Core or Walking Tall. But okay, whatever; those are older films, less in demand, and, I mean, how many people out there are signing on to Netflix to see his work with Bruce Sweeney? I had thought there might be a slim chance that maybe they'd have The Dick Knost Show, probably retitled as Hoser. I would have been happy to see that they had his excellent, under-appreciated Dogme film Crime. But I wasn't holding my breath, I'm not scandalized, and I'm sure not going to complain that he's unknown to them. C'est la vie - it's pretty much what I expected.

But let's search for Michael Caine, to see what comes up. He's done a ton of films - some excellent, and some less so, but he's certainly well-known. Obviously his name DOES show up when you use the onscreen menu to enter it, meaning, I presume, that a substantial number of other people HAVE searched for Michael Caine movies. He's still seventh in the cue of suggestions once you type in "Michael C," coming after "Michael Cera" and "Michael Collins" and even below Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, but whatever. I have no problem with the fact that Batman Begins, Now You See Me, and Children of Men are among the titles that are available; they should be. It's also no great surprise or disappointment that they don't have the one film of Caine's I was hoping to see - The Island, a modern-day pirate movie co-starring David Warner, made back in 1980. But what to make of the fact that, of Caine's 162 film credits, dating back to 1956, they only have thirteen films that he's been in, and that the only titles dating back before the 21st century are Quills (techinically 20th century, since it came out in 2000), and (fucking) 1987's Jaws: The Revenge?  Where's Get Carter? Where is the original Italian Job? Where is Dressed to Kill, or Zulu, or - Jeezus, they don't even have Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Even *I* have Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, for chrissake. And in terms of 21st century films, they're missing the most interesting things he's done, like Harry Brown or The Quiet American. It's kind of shocking!

Let's pick another example, this time a director: Werner Herzog. Clearly they acknowledge Herzog's importance, since at least one of the films - Into the Inferno, about volcanoes - is a Netflix original. But of his 68 films as director, they have precisely seven (plus a dinosaur documentary that he narrated, Dinotasia). All seven are documentaries: NONE of his fictional features are available to stream in Canada - from stone classics like Stroszek and Aguirre to more recent films like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Nor do they have his two most successful documentaries of late, Grizzly Man and Cave of Forgotten Dreams. While I actually want to see some of the films that do show up - like Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, about digital tech, or his prison documentary, Into the Abyss, I would be even more excited to see some of the hard-to-see fictional features he's made in recent years, since the collapse of physical media as a means of distribution. I have yet to find either Salt and Fire (2016) or Queen of the Desert (2015) anywhere, on DVD or Blu, and they sure aren't on Netflix; maybe they're on Mubi? ...And what about some of Herzog's acting roles? I don't ever want to see Incident at Loch Ness again, thank you, but I would probably like to look at Julien Donkey Boy (or Freaks of Nature). They don't even have the first Jack Reacher film (Herzog plays the villain, the Zec).

So much for maintaining a library. More scandalous still are the names that don't even get acknowledged in the search menu. Type in "Jarmusch," for instance; it doesn't even recognize the name. From Pam Grier to Peter Cushing, Larry Cohen to Fukasaku Kinji, the message you get on screen is the same each time: "There are no matches for your search." (They do acknowledge in their search function that Larry Cohen's Masters of Horror episode exists, but they don't actually have it; they MIGHT have, and might simply not have indexed, some the films based on his more recent screenplays, like Phone Booth and Cellular, but their "search" function might not be subtle enough to turn them up - I haven't quite figured out its limits yet, though when I do double check, as above, with Herzog and Jack Reacher, I have yet to catch a mistake or omission). Search for Robert Mitchum (133 films) and they have one film - the Scorsese remake of Cape Fear. I thought I might at least luck out with a Charles Bronson film I haven't seen - especially Walter Hill's Hard Times - but for Netflix Canada, Bronson is a movie starring Tom Hardy, and nothing more, while Walter Hill is acknowledged only once, with a film I'm not remotely curious about, 2012's Bullet to the Head. (I was also hoping they might have Trespass or Extreme Prejudice, which I've been told have merit that I missed the first time around, but... nope).

There's plenty to watch, mind you. A Rebekah McKendry article on the Blumhouse website about international horror on the service turned up a rather appealing Danish "pubescent female werewolf" movie, When Animals Dream. Moody and focused on what it is to be an alienated outsider in a tightly-knit, working class small town, it's more Let the Right One In for werewolves than it is Ginger Snaps, but it was engaging and effective enough. (Sadly, the other films on that list that I looked for, like Ragnarok and Blood Glacier, were unavailable; must be US Netflix only). Erika and I both enjoyed Stranger Things, too, though I disliked the last episode, which strayed a little too far from the series' dark roots to offer a feelgood, family-friendly resolution. Presumably we'll have to wait for the home video release of The Walking Dead Season 7 to come out before it shows up on Netflix - and probably we'll end up grabbing the video before we ever get a chance to stream it - but there is lots we can look at, It is certainly worth its very reasonable price of $9.99 a month (for two screens!) - in terms of pricing, the only things I've seen that are cheaper, for accessing films, are libraries or flat-out digital theft. I can see why Netflix (and other streaming services) are replacing physical media. There's a lot of potential here, and, I mean, I'm glad to have gotten to see Human Centipede III without having to pay anything for it; I do imagine I'll make a fair bit of use of the service.

What Netflix isn't, though, at this point, is a huge improvement over video stores. I mean, sure, you don't have to rewind or return anything, or pay late fees, and compared to VHS tapes in particular, you're getting, obviously, a much, much better picture quality. And in many ways, things haven't changed at all, despite the platform shift - there's a real emphasis on what is new and current, a lot of obvious, Christopher-Nolan type commercial fare, and a plethora of films that would have been "straight to video" filler on the New Arrivals wall back in the day (I just turned off one, American Heist, with some embarrassingly bad work from Adrien Brody, trying to play a tattooed gangsta). In many ways, the new boss - or paradigm, or platform, or what-have-you-is pretty much exactly the same as the old boss (paradigm, platform).

But in terms of maintaining a library of interesting older films and buried pleasant surprises, you know what? Rogers Video, back in 1990, did a way better job. Getting dusty in the aisles, digging around for some weirdo exploitation film, was more exciting and more rewarding than sitting on the couch entering in names and finding that, time and again, Netflix doesn't have what you're looking for. (I wonder if I search for "Billy Wilder," what will turn up, if anything? Or maybe they have Jodorowsky's new film? That's actually within the realms of the possible... hmmm).

There's lots of quality to enjoy - I am excited to be accessing it, and I'm going to use it - but Netflix Canada could be so much better than it is.