Thursday, June 30, 2005

Evan Parker's Free Zone at the Culch

Last year, for reasons I am unclear on, I didn't much enjoy either of soprano sax experimenter Evan Parker's gigs at the 19th Vancouver International Jazz Festival; though he was well received, getting standing ovations for his efforts, it just seemed like formless squawking then, without any of the quality of attentive listening and the organic structures to which it gives rise among the musicians that usually make free jazz so appealing. I'm glad my lack of enjoyment back then didn't stop me from attending tonight's show at the Culch, though, because tonight's performance was everything one could hope for from free jazz. Various players out of a pool of eleven, featuring Parker, Lol Coxhill, Alan Tomlinson, an uncredited Louis Moholo, and local regulars Ron Samworth, Peggy Lee, and Torsten Muller, appeared in small groupings to improvise and explore with each other; not only were the visitors appealing -- Coxhill eccentric and minimal, Tomlinson swishing his trombone about such that the very sounds of its whoosh through the air became part of the performance, Moholo playing incredibly precise and at times very subtle rhythms, and trumpeter Harry Beckett and flautist Neil Metcalfe adding very enjoyable accents and colours to the performances in which they appeared -- but even the locals shone. Peggy Lee, in particular, didn't just plink about, but actually played her cello, and was amazingly strong at it -- much, much more impressive than I've seen her be in the past; her interactions with Torsten Muller and a visiting bassist whose name I didn't get (and which is not listed in the guide) were essential structuring elements to some of the later improvisations. This was a great group; all eleven players ended up on stage, with Evan Parker. He mostly seemed happy to flow along with the other musicians, to contribute to the beautiful, swirling murk they made together, so I haven't much to single him out for, but assuming the whole night was his brainchild, I tip my hat to him...

Okay, here are my recommendations for the rest of the festival, for anyone who cares:

July 1:
1. Go see Lol Coxhill and Torsten Muller tomorrow at 5:30 at the Western Front, if you have any interest in noisy/improvised music. Organic noise ecstacy for perceptual elitists.
2. If you're missing the Subhumans gig, the Italian Instabile Orchestra sound like they're going to be a lot of fun -- smart, playful, swinging, and raucous. 8PM at the Culch.
3. At 11 PM there's a rare opportunity (one which, alas, I will miss, since I'll be at the Subhumans show) to see vocal improviser Phil Minton perform at the Ironworks, at 235 Alexander St, just off Main. He'll be playing with Peggy Lee, Torsten Muller, and Maggie Nichols (who I don't know but I gather is also a significant free music vocal improviser). This should be quite a show -- Minton seems a maniac. I really regret that I won't be there for this -- perhaps I'll sneak in for the last number or such.

July 2nd:

Whatever you do at the Roundhouse, do not miss South African drummer/bandleader Louis Moholo's Dedication Orchestra at the Culch at 8. Minton, Evan Parker, and a bunch of the other "highlight" players of this years festival will be playing with them; they do a combination of folkish, lyrical South African township jazz and eccentric avant garde-ism, in a big band context. If you do happen to miss it, you can see them open for Ladysmith Black Mambazo the next night, which also ought to be pretty cool, too, despite being at the Cavern for the Performing Arts.

July 3rd:

But of course anyone really interested in improvised jazz will be seeing Roscoe Mitchell at the Culch. He was an instrumental figure in the AACM, an Afrocentric, educational, non-profit organization in 1960's Chicago that also spawned players like Leroy Jenkins and Anthony Braxton, and the founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, an assumedly at least occasionally acidheaded five piece group that brought "little intstruments," from rubber ducks to party favours, onto the stage, along with colourful costumes and a pan-African sensibility which drew on funk, gospel, jazz, and rock, all within a generally improvised context. Co-founders Lester Bowie and Malachi Favors are dead, now, alas, so seeing Mitchell is probably about as close as you can hope to come to seeing AECO now. Opening for him will be another AACM alumni, Mwata Bowden, who has been working with local high school kids two years in a row, guiding them in reading graphic notation and teaching them new ways of conceiving of music. Bowden will also perform at 12:30 in the afternoon, earlier that day, with said kids, who were really great last year; for the evening show, he'll be joined by Paul Plimley. Mitchell will also be doing Roundhouse stuff, but on the 2nd, giving a talk at 4:30.

If you see me at any of the above, say hi...

Real Big Catfish

You saw it here first.

Oh No! Blim is Dead

Folks, you won't believe it, but it looks like Blim, the little gallery space that could, has been shut down! I just received this somewhat cryptic e-mail from them, telling of it -- the title refers to how "scandalmongers" have "terminated us":

gloom and devious events have slapped. tribulatory
WRONGS have befallen. unto us all shall pass the
injustice, the harsh, the real: blim has been
aqcuiesce, dolor heaves within the citizens who
dreamt. for each there was hope, IS hope, as bubbles
deep the shimmering cloak patterned with creativity.
and from within this cloak each may find their
splendor, their creation, beckon towards newness.
no longer will your services be required as no longer
can our services be offered. yuriko, wakako, and
myself would all like to extend our appreciation,
without you all, there wouldnt be an us. please accept
the possibility of a final farewell gathering, perhaps somewhere near sandy beach and warm ocean water. as for now, recollection is required.

esteem your selves, we certainly appreciate

until next

and there it ends, save for a signature. But G42 were going to play there in August! Oh noooooo!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Jazz Festival Continues

Something about jazz organ almost always makes me feel like I'm in a hockey rink: is this a uniquely Canadian perceptual distortion? John Medeski is about the only organist I've encountered who somehow gets me past this. Even Dr. Lonnie Smith, whose performance, opening for Mavis Staples at the Centre for the Performing Arts tonight, I greatly enjoyed, had that hockey feel; the echoey acoustics of the upstairs of the Centre probably added to that, such that he could have trilled "doodle-a-doo-da-DOO" (in the manner of the hockey charge) and it would have fit perfectly. Still: I was surprised how much I liked what he did. There are very few players associated with the Jazz Cellar whose music interests me; since generally I like stuff to be new, fresh, cutting edge, the whole MO of the place (to celebrate/regurgitate the jazz of about 50 years ago) just doesn't really appeal to me, and while I've seen players I like there -- Mike Allen and Bernie Arai come to mind -- I generally just don't go. I might be tempted to see Crash sometime, tho', based on Dr. Lonnie Smith tonight; there was something very no-bullshit about what he did -- his love of the music he was playing was evident, and he had a subdued, quietly intense, amusing sense of showmanship that quite appealed. I even enjoyed sideman Corey Weeds playing (tho' I enjoyed more musing at how his suit, pink shirt, and tie made him look kinda like Eminem).

I wish I could say I enjoyed Mavis Staples. Not knowing her music at all, I went hoping for Mahalia Jackson, but what I got was something far closer to Aretha Franklin; and while Mavis does have a powerful, throaty voice that I quite liked, there was a Vegas-y PUT YOUR HANDS TOGETHER VANCOUVER aspect to the routine that just sort of left me sitting there, as she told anecdotes about the Staples Singers which might have meant something to the converted but didn't really matter much to me at all. I liked the bass and guitar solos, during an extended version of "Respect Yourself" (but not enough to bother looking up the names of the bassist and guitarist) and I kind of enjoyed her gospel-ized take on the Band's "The Weight," but mostly I sat and waited for an opportune moment to leave. She was calling on Colin James, apparently in the audience, as I snuck out the door before the first encore -- perhaps he jammed with her. No disrespect intended to anyone involved, I just don't need that kind of action in my life (particularly when it came to the religious songs... I could almost imagine her performing them on TV)...

I didn't get as much of a charge out of Bik Bent Braam last night at the Culch as I'd hoped, either, despite the presence of Eric Boeren (I finally was able to score a copy of his deliciously Ornette-y Soft Nose recording from the merch table! I've been looking for that disc since I saw Boeren here two years ago). Part of it may have been that I'd expected to take a friend, who cancelled. Since Liz and Blake are out of town, this means that I'm doing a year of jazz shows entirely alone. Aww.

At least I'll have company for the Subhumans gig on Friday...

The Loch Ness Tooth

One for the cryptid-heads out there.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Excellent Article on Situation in Iraq

Remember Iraq, the war in the back of your mind? You couldn't and can't stop it, you can't change it, and you can't quite forget it; but if you want to stay informed, this is another good summary of the current situation. Also take a look here for an article about the use of napalm in Iraq.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Land of the Dead, Jazz Festival thus far

Ah, well. It might be fun if you haven't seen many of the previous Romero Dead films, or if they didn't mean much to you. Me, I'm the type of guy who, when Bub, the behaviourally conditioned "good" zombie in Day of the Dead, holds up his chain to show "Dr. Frankenstein" that he's managed to escape, wanting his "father" to be proud of him, only to discover that his father is dead -- and not living dead, either -- I literally weep at the pathos, as Bub flails and moans in inarticulate zombie grief; I weep for joy, later, when Bub gets his revenge. I weep every time I watch the film, too, which I do every couple of years; it occupies a special place in my heart. I wept not during Land of the Dead. I jumped a few times, and chuckled a few more, and had a pleasant minute or two contemplating the allegorical significance of bits of the film (like the idea of America as a walled city, protecting its wealth, conducting "raids" on the rest of the world for resources); but I also winced a fair number of times, at the woodenness of much of the dialogue, the simple stock characters, the obviousness of most of the film's set ups, and the progress of the rather simple, plot-by-numbers story, and the general cheapness of its thrills. I can't even say that it's my high expectations that caused me to be let down, despite my high regard for the rest of the series and the anticipation with which I've followed Romero's struggles to get this film financed and made: because I've read the screenplay, and was thus amply prepared for the disappointment I felt. I hoped against hope that what I read would prove to be a first draft; a hope that has been transmuted as the film flicked past into anger with myself at having spent time, thought and money on a bad film which I knew would be bad -- at allowing my hopes to dwarf my own best judgments.

I can't be bothered to enumerate the film's flaws at any length. The most obvious absurdities of the screenplay (like the question of the value of money in the world it describes) remain intact and absurd on screen. The presence of a white male hero who remains white and heroic (and doesn't end up a zombie) doesn't sit very well with the rest of Romero's films, nor the way his female characters -- previously so human, strong, and interesting -- have been reduced to the current popular fetish item, sexy-chicks-with-guns. The film cheats, too; it rewrites the rules of zombification, after one has been bitten, which once was a slow process... Plus there's... ah, fuckit, there's no reason to even write about the film seriously. Sorry, George. You made some great films in your day.

As for the jazz festival, I had another fair disappointment earlier today, as well -- I walked out of the Dave Holland concert before the opening act, a talented but not particularly interesting Norwegian/Swedish unit named Atomic, left the stage, because the acoustics in the Centre for the Performing Arts (to those package-deal ticket holders who were relegated to the balcony) were horrible. I couldn't even hear the bassist for Atomic; most of what he played registered as a low rumbling from somewhere far away, not unlike the sound of a passing train. Given that Holland, the bandleader for the main event, was a bassist, I ended up losing my curiosity for what was to come quite quickly. Worse, too, was the audience: perhaps its some weird lemming-land artefact of having that many people packed in to see a jazz show -- jazz is simply not meant to be played in venues the size of the centre -- but the dumb fuckers in the herd applauded after EVERY SOLO, which meant, given that every lead player in Atomic would solo at least once during a piece, and often twice, that each song was interrupted by the roar of applause about five times, which often drowned out what the next musician was already doing and provided unnecessary and distracting punctuation to the numbers. (I mean, it's fine and even appropriate in a jazz context to applaud solos, but its meant to be a result of an intimate bond between the performer and the audience, where the audience can't but react with joy to a particularly intense bit of playing that they've been led along by; it's not meant to be something one does by the book, out of politeness or form, every time someone noodles for a few minutes). Not Atomic's fault, I know, though unfortunately the whole point of their music seems to be to enable the players to solo, rather than to interact with each other or produce any particular mood, sound, or structure; their dedication to showing off their chops, and the audience's determination to applaud EVERY TIME, made the whole thing get tedious pretty fast. It might have been better if I could actually hear the band with any clarity. Maybe in another venue, it would have worked...

Far better (of the few shows I've seen, having been obliged by other engagements to skip Gastown) was the Marks Brothers today at the Western Front. THAT's the right size of a venue to see a jazz show at; it affords an intimacy between the performers and the audience that's necessary for live jazz to really work. Bassists Mark Dresser, who looks and dresses like someone your father played golf with (or maybe a high school chemistry teacher) and Mark Helias (he-LIE-us), who, with shaven pate, sly smile, and small ears that stick out, has a charmingly impish quality, played an interesting mix of noisy avant-jazz (like the opening piece, "Tonation" that had both bowing their basses in such a way as to produce a swirling, shifting drone, which pleasantly circled the inside of my head when I figured out that I needed to close my eyes to really appreciate it) and veritably swingin', "jazzier" stuff (which reached its most playful expression in a piece Helias announced, to laughter, as being entitled "Combover" -- going on to relay the information that apparently the Japanese call combovers "barcodes"). They played off each other wonderfully, and launched into some dizzying feats of bass-playing bravura. And although more than one of their solos also received enthusiastic whoops and claps, the audience's enthusiasm didn't seem forced or automatic in the slightest, and I was happy to join them in a standing ovation at the end: it was a wonderful set.

My only other show thus far was Ken Vandermark's Free Fall. I don't know why, but it didn't move me. Vandermark occasionally pushed his clarinet into the realm of pure sound, and the noises were satisfying; and it was interesting to see, too, that he's apparently mastered some sort of circular breathing technique. The interactions between musicians weren't that exciting, though, in the way that the best improvised music can be, where you're drawn into the experience of listening to the players listen to each other -- where one feels like one is following subtle interactions that will determine where the piece will go, and there's tangible excitement in the process, as something that didn't exist before is created. Instead, one felt that the players weren't really engaged with each other at all, were more concerned with what they as individuals were doing than with the overall journey or the shapes they suggested to each other. The patterns in the composed pieces, too, while they held your attention and were occasionally quite pleasant, neither swung particularly nor forced new modes of listening. I can't fault any of them as musicians -- I greatly liked what the pianist, Havard Wiik, was doing, in particular -- and it was nice to hear them dedicating songs to people like Terrie Ex of the Dutch agit-punk collective, the Ex (who are one of about three rock bands currently performing that I really care about and need to follow, along with the New Model Army and Nomeansno). All the same, it didn't do a whole lot for me.

Still, even if it's been a less than stellar start, I'm really looking forward to Bik Bent Braam and the Dedication Orchestra, and am very curious to hear what Roscoe Mitchell will do; plus there's the Subhumans reunion on Friday, and I'm still kind of keen on seeing Mavis Staples, tho' I wish it weren't at the Centre again...

Damn. Now that Land of the Dead has been released, I haven't much left to look forward to in the world of cinema. Tom Noonan's Wang Dang? The new Jorodowsky, if it ever gets made? Hm. Even next month at the Cinematheque isn't that exciting...

Post script: a couple of reviews that sum up how I feel, re: Land of the Dead (taken from Rotten Tomatoes, where mostly the film is getting praised)

Stating the Desire to Write about tonight's Sublime Frequencies Event at a Later Date

...because I'm too tired/wasted/sweaty now, and my apartment is too messy, and requires my attentions before I go to bed.

Alan Bishop of the Sun City Girls was in town at the Butchershop tonight, along with filmmaker Hisham Mayet (who I don't as yet know that much about! I shoulda asked!) showing various DVDs soon to be released on the Sublime Frequencies label, which they're involved in. The films they brought were Niger: Magic and Ecstacy in the Sahel and some as yet unreleased material from Cambodia, Burma, and somewhere, uh, else. Sublime Frequencies are a sort of archival project, documenting with as little narration/intrusion as possible the state of various cultures, with an ear towards musical traditions and/or sound. They've released media capturing the images, music and sounds of Burma, Thailand, Sumatra, Morroco, Lhasa, Nepal, Cambodia, Indonesia and elsewhere, with upcoming CDs focusing on North Korea and Iraq. CDs tend to be either field recordings, including much "daily life"/ambient sound stuff, ritual music, and street musicians; or else intertwining samples of language, commerce, and traditional and popular musical culture as filtered through radio programming, cassette archives, TV, etc.

The DVDs are another thing altogether -- tonight was my first exposure, but the filmic element made the material much more engaging and interesting for a scopophilic, musically primitive sort such as myself (it requires a sort of disciplined ear to really enter a soundscape of street noises and find it fascinating, as I know some do; for me, the seen element made things much more accessible). I'll be seeking out their DVDs in the future; it was a fascinating night, the kind of night that leaves your eyes a little tired because they've had to learn a new way of looking (which, really, is about as high a praise as I think I could give for a filmmaker). From watching cowrie-shell divination by an animist priest in Niger (followed by excerpts of a related religious ritual, of a sort similar to those seen in voodou) to watching Burmese (I think) high schoolers laughing, hugging, and flirting with the camera as they graduate from school (I think), while a Burmese (I think) version of the Rolling Stones' "As Tears Go By" plays on the soundtrack, the audience (of fewer than 100, I think, including Yuriko from Blim, Dan of G42, and a whole bunch of other equally interesting people, I'm sure, whose names and affiliations I just don't know) was kept amply stimulated, with much food for thought. They sat in rapt attention, reacting occasionally, but mostly just watching and listening in a way that people seldom DO in our current cultural melieu. I felt grateful, afterwards, for having been permitted to participate in such attentive seeing and hearing; grateful to have seen these snippets of life elsewhere, grateful for the opportunity to sit and reflect on these images and sounds in a way more mainstream venues of media would not have permitted.

I also felt grateful that the filmmakers had managed to keep themselves so much out of the way of the presentation of their material, and had done so so intelligently and straightforwardly. For once, the film was not about the filmmaker; ego and interpretation were toned way down (how many miles from Hollywood are we, anyhow?). It's a sort of camcorder-verite that I haven't encountered that much of -- mostly people with camcorders, including myself when I'm allowed to play with them, end up producing images of talky talking heads; the only time anyone addressed the camera during the Niger film, though, was when one of the animists explained at some length about how the "bori," I think it was -- similar to the loa -- manifest themselves to human beings. For a brief moment, one of the filmmakers speaks on camera, as a voice off; otherwise, there's not a word to be heard from them, not an image of themselves to be seen. It's about as non-narcissistic a mode of filmmaking as you can get... In the Q&A after the show, Bishop and Mayet explained that the lack of narration helps you to see what they saw, which you can then follow up on on your own; they aren't interested in being experts, just in showing you what they've encountered, which they find interesting to hear and look at themselves. They clearly have done their homework -- Mayet, who seemed to be a bit more of an anthropologist, referred people interested in Niger to the book Prayer has Spoiled Everything: Possession, Power and Identity in an Islamic Town of Niger -- but they had no particular need to show it off. They had other things they wanted to show us. The audience was receptive and grateful.

Will have to keep my eye on the Butchershop -- it's an interesting scene, part of that stuff going on up Main -- it's not far from the Reef, the Main, and Red Cat. Glad to be slowly getting to know about places like this.

Anyhow, that was more writing than I wanted to do there, I tell ya. Maybe if I just pick up anything really dirty off the floor and brush my teeth, I can go to bed and deal with the rest in the morning.

Cheers to Alan Bishop and Hisham Mayet.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Allergy-Free Transgenic Cats

As people around the world starve, live in poverty, and die in wars, scientists are working on genetically altered cats which don't produce allergic reactions in owners. While they're at it, they should find some way to make cats whose flesh turns an unmistakable colour when cooked, so that Chinese restaurants will be kept honest.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Unexpected Classroom Guest

I didn't believe my eyes at first: literally, I thought I was hallucinating. There was a streak of motion along the corner of the wall, as I tidied and put up posters in my basement-level classroom at the downtown ESL school where I work; it seemed to move in the direction of the filing cabinet, and I thought it might have been a mouse, but since I had only seen a blur of motion, I couldn't be sure. I kicked the filing cabinet and again, saw a flash of motion, mostly out of the corner of my eyes: and then, finally, I saw it. A mouse indeed, running along the sideboards in a panic.

I scared it back behind the filing cabinet and went out to notify the school custodian, and one teacher, who came in and saw the critter with me. Our custodian, a tidy little Filipino-Canadian, wanted to kill it, when he arrived, but it was easy enough to catch in the class garbage bin, whereupon, after showing it around a bit, I carried it outside -- a small brown terrified live thing with big ears and a fast-beating heart, which set its whole frame vibrating; it jumped every now and then, as if it could possibly get out by such a means, and stared up at me in confusion and panic. I released him behind a dumpster in an alley a couple of blocks away.

It's my second close-up encounter with a mouse. The first was ten years ago or more, in the suburbs where I grew up. I was walking down the backroads of Maple Ridge, coming up the hill on Laity Street; I was on LSD, and it had yet to quite kick in. I've always held that when you're on acid, the rules the universe play by change; it somehow knows that you're twisted, and does things that it would never do otherwise, just to baffle you (I recall vividly, on one trip, riding on a bus that ran at least five red lights in a row, without so much as a honk or hestitation). On the occasion of my walk, things were fairly normal still -- there was a slight metallic taste in my mouth, a slight feeling of tingling, announcing the early onset of the trip -- when I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I started, as one sometimes does outdoors, when one sees what one thinks is an unexpected, live, wild creature nearby; but this feeling was fast-on followed by relief, as I realized that what I was looking at was probably just a leaf or such, blowing down the hill towards me. I looked closer and realized I'd seen it right the first time: a mouse, tiny, fast approaching.

I stood stock-still in the middle of the quiet evening street, under the shadows of tree leaves dancing on the street, as the mouse ran directly up to me, stopped, looked up at me, climbed onto my left shoe, looked up at me again, and paused a minute, raising up on his hind legs and sniffing. There was a moment of contact; I felt joy, amazement, bewilderment, and I probably said "hello" in a happy, small voice. I looked at the mouse, and it looked at me; and then it ran off.

Quite possibly, that mouse then saved the life of the life of the mouse today. I've always been kind to animals, and the idea of actually killing a mammal for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time is abhorrent to me (though I did once, when on LSD, embrace the murderous forces of the universe to kill a cranefly; but it had molested me anally . It's a long story). My past connection with its species made it completely impossible for me to allow any harm to come to the mouse today. I'll have to take some sort of action if the school ends up setting up traps -- like putting non-fatal ones in my classroom, to try to rescue as many mice as possible. I'll find a way to smuggle them out and give them a stern talking to about never coming back.

One of my higher-ups actually got annoyed at me for not killing the mouse -- and for further being so careless as to show it around: "they have germs." She clearly didn't grow up playing in fields like I did...

Saturday, June 18, 2005

My Schedule for the Jazz Festival

Okay, folks: here’s my jazz festival lineup – you can look up the artists and sometimes hear samples on the official site.

June 24th: Free Fall with Ken Vandermark at the Western Front
June 26th: Bik Bent Braam (early free show in Gastown)
June 26th: The Marks Brothers (early show at the Western Front)
June 26th: Dave Holland Quintet with Atomic, at the Centre
June 28th: Bik Bent Braam with the Jonas Kullhammar Quartet, at the Culch
June 29th: Mavis Staples with Dr. Lonnie Smith, at the Centre
June 30th: Evan Parker at the Culch
July 1st: Lol Coxhill and Torsten Muller (early show), at the Western Front
July 1st: enough of this jazzy shit, I’m going to see the Subhumans at the Brickyard!
July 2nd: a bunch of early, free shows at the Roundhouse, yet to be determined
July 2nd: Dedication Orchestra at the Culch
July 3rd: another bunch of early free shows at the Roundhouse, again, yet to be determined
July 3rd: Roscoe Mitchell Quintet with Mwata Bowden/Paul Plimley at the Culch

Hope to see some of you there!

9/11 Conspiracy Theories

There's so much 9/11 conspiracy stuff to be found out there, and so much of it is bunk that pretty much all of it starts to seem suspect, as do conspiracy theories in general (click here for an interesting analysis of why conspiracy theories aren't that useful as a means of interpreting the world). The stuff that gets under my skin, which I believe originates with that French fellow who put the Flash stuff online questioning whether a plane really hit the Pentagon (an interesting presentation, debunked elsewhere, though who knows how valid that debunking is, either) are the various "facts" offered in support of the theory that the collapse of the WTC had to have been a controlled demolition. The problem is that I don't know if anyone who is repeating these "facts" is actually taking time to verify them, or if they're just directly regurgitating someone else's assertions, which may not be facts at all; given how often the main source of the news is other news, I could easily imagine that these arguments can be and have been successfully contradicted elsewhere, but continue to swim around the net anyhow. Even former members of the Bush government are being swayed by some of this stuff, but that doesn't make it more credible... Still, it gets under my skin, a little. And seems to stay there.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Subhumans Reunion July 1

You all are paying attention, right? Mike Graham has finally been cajoled, Gerry Hannah is in town, and Brian "Wimpy Roy" Goble has given the boot to the Surrey teenagers who so enthusiastically filled their spots at the Vancouver Complication gig: the Subhumans play the Brickyard on Canaduh Day. Do I need to say anything else?

James Blood Ulmer at the Yale

Well -- not much trace of Ornette Coleman remains in this man's music, and I certainly had hoped to see him in a band setting, rather than playing solo up there on the stage (which he confessed was odd -- "I'm a band man," he said); but I still had a damned good time listing to James Blood Ulmer play the blues tonight at the Yale. The songs mostly all sounded the same (and in some cases, were the same -- at least three of the songs in the second set were songs from the first set) and one sensed that, with the exception of one bouncier standard, there was little difference between what Mr. Ulmer did tonight at the Yale and what he would have done had he been playing to a small crowd of friends in his living room -- but that's exactly why tonight was a success; had he gotten rid of the pauses between songs and just strung them together into one long voyage on the guitar I'd've been even happier. Who needs songs, anyways? The point was to hear him play, and play he did -- the best moments creating a dark twisting tunnel that drew you ever onwards and forwards, with spiralling sparks of colour swirling around you; there was just enough repetition, just enough structure to create the needed propulsion, and the rest was a pure celebration of the form, a dance of writhing ephemeral sprites garbed in hot neon, escaping from their earthy graves to seek freedom in starlight for awhile, twining around you as you spiralled out into the blackness yourself. I closed my eyes and let my spine make shapes (pint glass in my hand, ass planted firmly on the barstool, but still); for more than a few moments I lost myself, transported, following wherever the man's fingers led me, and that's as much of a testament to him as I figure I'm going to manage tonight -- what more could one ask of music, anyhow? It's almost enough to make me think of someday going back to the Yale -- but, nah, I doubt I will.

Check it out: that cool guy with the beard from the Magic Flute in Kits was there, too! For weeks on end last year he'd be at damn near every concert I went to, from Mission of Burma to Diamanda Galas... I think his name begins with T... Hi, cool guy!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Upcoming Movies on DVD

... was peeking at the "Coming soon to DVD" section in the bottom right corner of Roger Ebert's main page. Three films to be excited about will be released on DVD in the next month or two: Arther Penn's Night Moves, Jerry Schatzberg's Scarecrow, and Jean Luc Godard's Weekend (which I've been eagerly waiting for). Night Moves (which stars Gene Hackman) I haven't seen, but it's a private-eye thriller that supposedly is somewhat subversive -- one of the 1970's movies that Robin Wood gets excited about in his interesting Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan, which posits that many of the films of the 1970's showed a society in a state of unease; that, pre-Star Wars, pre-Rambo, pre-Spielberg, there was actually a period in American cinema where filmmakers could ask difficult questions, expose contradictions and confusions in American society, and serve to upset the status quo -- something Wood sees little hope for in the state of contemporary cinema. Scarecrow, which I have seen, certainly also deserves a place in such a book -- it's a movie about two drifters, played by Gene Hackman and Al Pacino, trying to survive together on the road. It's one of those films that slips something under your skin that stays; though I would never call it a favourite film of mine, every few years I have the desire to see it, to work with it, to try to understand it better, to feel what it wants me to feel as we watch its protagonists' generally downward arc. I'll probably buy the DVD.

I've also seen Weekend. It's harder to describe. It's Godard's angry rejection of bourgeois cinema, his assertion of an intent to challenge, assault, and criticize the way movies are viewed. It also deals with violence and our reactions to it, and, if I recall, has a middleclass couple setting out on a holiday which ends in revolution, murder and cannibalism... I'm interested in seeing it mostly because its one of the only films by Godard that I felt I fully understood and sympathized with -- usually with Godard I feel things whooshing by my head at every turn. It's been some time since I attempted to view his films (I challenged myself to Hail Mary, Prenom: Carmen, and a few other late-period films of his when I was in my early 20's), so I might be in a better position to view them now... I'm certainly looking forward to seeing Weekend again.

For anyone's reference, the films I'd most like to see distributed on DVD are, in the order they occur to me:

Cassavetes' Husbands and Love Streams
Robert Kramer's Ice and Milestones
Nic Roeg's Performance and Bad Timing
Antonioni's Zabriskie Point and The Passenger
the first season of The Naked City, starring John McIntyre
Lars Von Trier's Zentropa
Philip Ridley's The Reflecting Skin
Bertrand Tavernier's Death Watch (the long version, please! Great, unknown film with Harvey Keitel, Max von Sydow, and Harry Dean Stanton -- all very bankable! -- plus the last performance of the terrific Romy Schneider)
Bruce Sweeney's Dirty
Jeremy Podeswa's Eclipse
Ingmar Bergman's Face to Face
Wim Wenders' Alice in the Cities, Wrong Move, Kings of the Road, and The State of Things
Nick Ray's The Lusty Men
More Bela Tarr
More Peter Watkins (esp. Privilige)
Any Aleksei German (Russian filmmaker I've had recommended to me)
All Jodorowsky... and I mean in legit, Region 1 formats!!!

...I must be forgetting a few. Feel free to append your own list in the comments section!

Apologizing to Ellen McIlwaine, plus Drug Dealers Next Door Part 2

Here's a convoluted one, a tour through a blogger's conscience:

1. I went to see the talented, engaging slide guitarist Ellen McIlwaine at the Western Front about a year ago. I'd been aware of her work for awhile (since I'd chatted with this interesting, cute, but, alas, not-single Purolater Courier truck driver and guitarist at a New West library record sale some time ago; sometimes I check out music that people recommend to me solely on the basis of my wanting to sleep with said people -- don't you?). At the concert, I really enjoyed what Ms. McIlwaine did -- she was witty, her songs were passionate, her yodelling is kind of delightfully odd, and she even scatted a bit in Japanese, telling us anecdotes about her childhood in Japan -- where I'd spent three years, myself. Thing was: she was wearing these sweatpants on stage, and I really didn't like them, thought they brought her image down a bit -- they're a kind of housewifely thing to wear. I wrote a generally positive review of her show -- but I included a snide comment about the sweats. Actually, it was less specific than that... Something about how her wardrobe reminded me of Peg Bundy. Ouch. (But, you know, the character wore sweats all the time). It really was just the sweats I didn't care for...

2. I then e-mailed Ms. McIlwaine, because I thought she might like some Japanese outsider folk I'd been listening to -- Kan Mikami and Tomokawa Kazuki, two odd, passionate, little-known folk singers/guitarists from the Japanese scene. Offered to send her some CDs, said I really enjoyed her show. What I didn't realize was that my e-mail included a signature invite to visit my blog. She replied to my e-mail, most politely, and said she was going to look at my blog, whereupon I panicked. Oh no! She'll see my cutting remarks on her sweatpants and be hurt! I rushed to modify my review.

3. I then contemplated how being a reviewer, even in an obscure forum such as this, required tact and discipline, which I hadn't realized before. (Most reviewers seem to write like they don't give a damn how they affect the people they're writing about... I've worried -- say, when writing about Grant Hart, below, whose show I walked out on -- if I'm being fair, civil, etc... It seems like it must be hard enough to get up on stage without later having to read snide comments by completely insensitive assholes who let the world know your failings).

4. I sent off the CDs to Ms. McIlwaine, as promised, and never heard back from her. Whereupon I began to worry. What if she'd read my unrevised blog, expecting fan writing, to discover a cruel potshot instead? What if I'd hurt her feelings? What if she didn't have particularly thick skin? What if she'd worn sweats because of her hip problems (which she mentions on her website) or for other such reasons and was in fact self-conscious about them? Perhaps (I worried, whenever the thought crossed my mind) I'd destroyed her ability to perform in public!

5. It also seemed possible that she never actually read the blog entry, never bothered with the CDs, and that I was worrying for nothing. But I'm the type of guy who, once I've constructed a worst-case scenario for myself to worry about, ends up dwelling on it. What can I say.

6. Anyhow, I woke up from a nap today to discover that some dim part of my mind had returned to worrying about my effect on Ellen McIlwaine! Gah! Enough of it! I needed to get this off my conscience. I wrote her, just now, another e-mail, explaining the above briefly, and apologizing for my comments, in case she actually read them.

7. Whereupon I now worry that she'll read the e-mail and think I'm some kind of nut. (Particularly if she also noticed my offer, some months ago, to let Diamanda Galas sodomize me - which I'd snail-mailed to Ms. Galas and published here -- alas, to no response).

Let it be known: the responsibilities of blogging weigh heavy on my shoulders.

On a lighter note, the drug dealers next door have finally been evicted! No more booming hip hop coming through the wall at 3 AM! Yaaay!

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Wide Blue Road

I liked this film exactly as much as I hoped I would, and I had high hopes for it. An early work by Gillo Pontecorvo, best known for The Battle of Algiers and Burn!, it's strongly left-leaning, but more romantic, lyrical, and exciting than your standard work of social realism; and the Italian coastal waters on which much of the film is shot are truly lovely to look at. It focuses on the struggles of a dynamite fisherman, played by the charismatic Yves Montand -- Mario in The Wages of Fear, another great film recently watched -- to support his family and survive in the community of his peers, who fish with nets and, though they like him, resent his more successful (but illegal and "uncompetitive") means of making his catch. The film has various subplots -- the coming of age of his sons, the desire of his daughter to marry, and the struggles of the local fishermen to wriggle out from under the thumb of the local capitalist monopolist who controls the prices they get for their fish -- but the main story is compelling enough: what a good man, in a bad trade, must do to keep his family fed, avoid the police, and somehow still keep the esteem of his fellows, his children, and of himself. Probably not an easy one to find in a rental shop, but worth seeking out.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Black Market Urine

Sales of clean urine, to avoid being busted during workforce drug tests, are doing well in Alberta, apparently. What I want to know is, where do the hemp companies that sell the pee, buy the stuff from? (Assumedly their own pee is not very clean). Do the pee-ers know what their pee is being used for? Do the people who sell the the pee ever lie and consume drugs themselves, selling bad pee? Are the people who buy the pee forced to do drug tests on it first, or on the pee vendors, to guarantee their product? It would be amusing to me, if people who are selling pee to help others pass drug tests are themselves subject to drug tests. Perhaps they buy pee to help foil them...

After Antibalas: Thoughts on Michael Jackson

It took me awhile to get into what Antibalas were doing last night at the Commodore. Their opening song had what seemed a kind of simple, repetitive riff to it and not a lot of soloing -- it seemed like a "warming up" sort of number. Perhaps it was my cold, perhaps its that my mind was on other things, but I didn't get excited about what they were doing. For the second song, I closed my eyes, and that helped a lot. When I wasn't dancing, I meditated on how the singer used tribal energies and identifications to lead the audience, and on how it was rather gutsy to begin "Who is Dis America (Dem Speak of Today)" with a routine about "chopping down an overgrown Bush" -- particularly if they're saying that in the United States when they perform. It seems, given the tension and hysteria one associates with the divide opening up down there, that it could actually be a little dangerous to make such statements in public.

I enjoyed what I saw of the show, but I have a cold, and wanted to get enough sleep so that I could consider going to work this morning, which I'm not doing. After four songs, I let myself go home, saying goodbye to Mel, who I'd taken to the concert for her birthday.

On the way home, a homeless guy asserted himself at me with a joke -- part of his shtick to get attention and thereby money. "Why was Michael Jackson in Wal-Mart?"

I told him I really wasn't in the mood -- I was deep in other thoughts -- and he moved on to someone else without skipping a beat. "Why was Michael Jackson in Wal-Mart?"

I continued home, thinking whatever it was I was thinking, when suddenly the answer to the joke came to me.

Q: Why was Michael Jackson in Wal-Mart?

A: Because he heard they use child labour.


You know, you wonder about Michael Jackson. There seems to be this process of publicly ostracizing him from the human tribe going on among all but his most devoted fans. He is widely regarded as a freak, and treated very cruelly, as the above joke attests (in him, even the homeless have someone they can abuse!); yet he seems to have participated so actively in this process, behaving so bizarrely, so publicly, that it is rather hard to sympathize. It starts to seem creepily significant that he tried to buy the remains of John Merrick, the so-called Elephant Man; as if Jackson could express his own feelings of freakishness, explore them, through owning such a thing -- as if he were saying he was, somehow, like Merrick. Why else would he want them?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Naomi Klein on Torture

An excellent, concise little article -- and perhaps prescient, since Rumsfield and Bush may resort to realpolitik yet. (If lying ever stops working, say). Looks like Ms. Klein is one of those who have caught up with The Battle of Algiers, in the light of its recent relevance... Great film, very interesting.


20725. My God. Maybe I'm dense, but I spent over an hour on it (I'm home sick from work and have the inclination to do little else). Try it and tell me: is this not the hardest free cell ever?

Creature Storms

Magnolia was overrated: I'm coming to agree, tho' I enjoyed the film at the time. I'm getting a little sick of the way people flock to these sorts of mass-marketed "art" films and make a fuss about them -- Cassavetes scholar and film professor Ray Carney has a point when he talks (in these cool packages of writings he sent me) about them being kitsch, fake art, part of the Hollywood celebrity system, where everyone fawns over some new artsy film that seems meaningful, but is easy to digest, easy to unpack, and which offers us little we don't already know -- films that flatter us and cater to our prejudices, without challenging us in any real way. At the same time, regardless of anything Ray might say, I remain delighted that the film introduced a storm of frogs into the popular imagination; if nothing else, it afforded those of us in the know to explain about Charles Fort and the history of creature storms (you'd be shocked how many people just plum don't know about this stuff), and, well, as for me, I like to show these sorts of things off (just get me talkin' about the mating habits of the praying mantis sometime). It's probably the greatest good to come from the film. I don't dislike the movie, but I don't imagine I'll be able to sit through it again -- it was of no lasting interest; it's nothing more than an entertainment, however it might appear.

Anyhow, there's been a frog storm in Serbia. That was really all I wanted to point out.

Also, hey, see the following site for the complete text of various books by Fort, including creature storms and more!

Finally, from the Fortean Times site: some body parts rained on NY, but there's a pretty unexciting explanation, and it was only a couple of parts.

I am now going to go peruse some Fort myself.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Mysterious Japanese Guardrail Sabotage

Note: I lived in Saitama for three years, so it's pretty interesting to me to note that this is one of the central areas affected by this strange act: planting metal spikes in guardrails, to cut and damage those who pass too close. Note that Japan uses guardrails as a sort of vertical speedbump, too: instead of slowing to go over a bump in the road, you slow to pass through a narrow set of guardrails. If this were one of the things affected by this freakish form of sabotage, it would make getting around without badly damaging your paintjob a bit of a challenge!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

George A. Romero's new dead film, plus the Drug Dealers Nextdoor

...opens June 24th in the US, and presumably around the same time in Canada. There's a trailer for it here, and if you poke around IMDB's message boards you can find links to the screenplay -- which sounds like it has potential, tho' it has one very strange flaw -- the idea that money has value in it's post-apocalyptic, zombie-ridden environment. I'm worried that I'm just not going to care about this film, but I'm eager for its release no less.

Here's an odd detail: my tattooed, hip-hop-blaring neighbour, with whom my only contact has been when I knocked on his door to ask him to turn his music down the other day, just started joking with me as we passed in the doorway about how other people in the building were whispering about how he's a crack dealer; he informed me, by way of stoned elaboration, that he deals only in "chronic." Kind of funny to have a sheer stranger tell you he deals one drug because he's indignant that people have assumed he deals in another. If he'd only keep his fuckin' music down, I wouldn't much care if he dealt in sarin...