Half a Century High

July 11, 2014 at 4:07 pm (Uncategorized)

I turned 50 yesterday. I was going to write this post then, but I was too busy partying to get to it. Er,… no actually. first of all, I hate using the word party as anything other than a noun, and second, I had to work today.

A visit to the physiotherapist for a problem with my shoulder, a roti and some birthday cake, a few calls from family and friends, and capped the evening by watching a truly unfunny shit-com called Welcome to Sweden.

So, yeah, the title of this post refers to a Phil Ochs song I like rather than my prodigious drug habit –  caffeine is my favourite drug, closely followed by Advil for migraines which have followed me throughout my life.

What’s the line, if you’re not a communist by the time you’re twenty you have no heart, but if you’re still a communist by the time you’re thirty you have no brains? What does that say about a fifty year old? A friend asked me yesterday if I felt I had mellowed. Hmm. I’m certainly less active. Time for family, for work and the problem of less energy all feed into that. But mellow? Nah.

Aging is the most unexpected thing which happens to a person. I did think I would be more mature by now though.

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Toronto Anarchist Bookfair 2014

July 9, 2014 at 2:42 am (Uncategorized)

Ah ha, this year’s Toronto Anarchist Bookfair is taking place in two weeks (July 19 and 20) at the Steelworkers Hall on Cecil Street. Workshops and tablers (including my humble self). Come by, say hi.

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A Quick New York Trip

July 6, 2014 at 10:17 pm (Uncategorized) ()

I started a new job last week which has caused all sorts of stress and is one of the principal reasons, I’ve been silent of the post-front of late. But, before the job started, I managed to work in a quick trip to New York.

I’ve lived in Toronto off and on for almost three decades now, and I’m very fond of the place, but whenever I travel to New York, I am forcibly made aware of just how tiny Toronto is. New York is…well, an assault on the senses. I mean that in a positive way, but in the short space of a city block you can experience the scent of the best pizza you’ve every smelt, human sweat, perfume, ice-cream and urine. Yeah, yeah, I know you can experience than in many cities, but it just seems so New York.

I like to fly Porter Airlines out of Toronto not because it’s cheaper or more convenient, but because I feel more like a person than cattle. Oh, and while they now charge $25 for checked luggage, snacks and alcohol are still complimentary (alas, the days of the vegetarian sandwich are over). Porter though flies into Newark which usually means a 25 minute train ride to Penn Station. Except…the train lines are down and so I found myself on a bus which crawled through New Jersey traffic to New Jersey’s Penn Station. A quick stop to find my place, and I was on a train into Manhattan.

Problem number two appeared when I arrived at my hotel near the Empire State Building. It turned out I had made my reservation for the following month. Huh? I starred and the confirmation sheet I had printed, and sure enough it was for July 27. Luckily, there was room and I ended up with a room cheaper than he rate I had earlier been quoted.

So then it was off to explore Manhattan. Whenever I go to New York, I always feel I’m just scratching the surface, so I made planned to spend time in other areas, but very quickly I found myself at the Strand bookstore picking up used books , including a set of essays by Kim Gordon Is This My Body? Old habits die hard. At the end of the first day, I found myself exhausted with a splitting headache. Not an auspicious start.

Day 2 was better, and began with a trip to the Guggenheim. The exhibition I was interesting in seeing was on Italian Futurism. Futurism , like its leftist cousins in surrealism and Dada, rejected bourgeois society talking in revolutionary terms. Futurism however seemed to glorify destruction and build in a backward looking nationalism. It’s no accident that the blurb for the exhibition spoke of Futurism’s “complicated” relationship with Italian fascism. Complicated seems to be a little mild. The Futurists clearly aspired to be the official art movement of Fascism, but the fascists weren’t that interested as Il Duce’s tastes were a little more traditional. Always the bridesmaid. Still, if you can tear yourself away from that, (and it’s hard when you saw dinner plates inscribed with Fascism and Futurism), some of the art was tremendous. Heavily influenced by impressionism, and cubism as well as new techniques in sculpture and photography, the exhibition was astonishing.

At the end of the day, I took the ferry over to Staten Island to attend the Lumin Festival. The festival, now in its fifth year, is an installation by local artists working in a variety of forms (TV, video, sculpture, puppetry, etc) all in a vaguely post-apocalyptic venue down by the water. The festival stretched about half a mile along the water’s edge, and I very quickly noticed that we were a part of the show just as much as the installations (OK< maybe not quite as much). It was interesting to hear a babble of languages as people walked back and forth under the night sky (fireworks from Brooklyn were also visible which made for a nice co-incidence). It was very different from the dry atmosphere of the Guggenheim, but no less interesting.

My thirds day was spent on Staten Island with friends (likely the subject of another post), but I did wander around the streets for an hour or so)
Monday was my last day in the city, and I headed back into Manhattan for see a couple of sites. I wandered past the Weathermen house (I was surprised not to see a plaque), past the Chelsea Hotel and past a house where Kerouac lived. The most interesting thing for me though was the High Line. A former industrial train track now reclaimed an above ground city park stretching from the meatpacking district up to 32nd street or so. It offers some very interesting views of the city, and serves as another oasis from people. I trudged up to Port Authority and took the bus to Newark. And then it was back to Toronto.

New York has become my go-to getaway city, but each trip never turns out the way I imagine it will. And that’s probably a good thing.

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Music Notes June 2014 (Digging Through the Back File)

June 27, 2014 at 12:53 pm (Uncategorized)

A little early this time as I’m going out-of-town for a few days.

1. Buffalo Daughter – New Rock

Electronica from Japan. Picked this up around 1999. Quirky rock soundtrack over samples and beats. Not essential, but worth a listen.

2.  Jawbox – Novelty

I saw Jawbox at Lee’s Palace in 1992. Bought the CD, ordered the vinyl and a t-shirt (which I still have). Great sonic assault.

3. The Vibrators – Pure Mania

Terrific pop-punk. Stiff Little Fingers took their name from a song on this record. The Vibrators are scheduled to play the Rockpile East in Toronto in August.

4. The Fall – Totale’s Turns (It’s now or Never)

In 1980 or so, I became a fan of the Fall as they entered their Manc-abilly phase with songs like “How I Wrote Plastic Man” and “Totally Wired.” I bought this live album when I was on holiday with my parents in some little seaside town in Devon. It’s a bit of an assault, on the listener and the audience, but no less wonderful for it.

5. Handsome Ned – The Ballad of Handsome Ned

Posthumously released collection of Toronto country star Handsome Ned. Listen to “In spite of the Danger,” which may have been written about a girl and not wonder if he was talking about the heroin which killed him. Also available as a double set My Name is Ned

6. Cub  – Come Out Come Out

Canada’s Shonen Knife? No, that’s unfair. BC minimalist pop trio’s second album featuring Yoko Ono and Go-=Gos covers as well as some pretty nifty originals.

7. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Darklands

When I first heard this record, I thought “Where’s the feedback?” But you know, over the years, I think I prefer this one to Psychocandy. Great pop songs full of menace. I saw the band only once, at the Concert Hall in Toronto in the 1990s, and they were, well, just OK. This however is brilliant.

8. Rocket From the Crypt – All Systems Go!

Some bands make singles, some make albums, some only play live. RFTC are a great live band, but my preferred medium is the single. All Systems Go is their first singles comp and to my ears works better than the albums,. Short blasts of noise.

9. Spacemen 3 – Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To

Whether of not you do take drugs, it’s hard to resist the title of this collection of demos from Spacemen 3. Best song? The rambling minimalist version of Bo Diddley’s “I’m Alright” reworked as “It’s Alright.”

10. Huevos Rancheros – Dig In!

Did you ever wish Shadowy Men were less Surf-guitar and more garage band? Wish no more. Alberta’s Huevos Rancheros provide the perfect instrumental soundtrack to Friday night.

 

 

 

 

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A Note About the Parquet Courts

June 22, 2014 at 10:47 pm (Uncategorized)

The Parquet Courts are from Brooklyn. And, like a lot of bands, I end up liking, I heard a lot about them before I actually heard them. People with more spare time than me I guess.

The problem with the way we listen to music now, as opposed to the way I did when I was younger, is that whenever you heard a buzz, you can heard it immediately. The problem is that there’s just soooo much to hear now. In the old days, the limited distribution channels prevented them. Doesn’t mean I want to go back, but anyway, I digress.

A more serious problem though is that when you get the music, it’s often shaped by the buzz you heard. So when I first heard of Parquet Courts, words like slacker, and Pavement-influenced surrounded them. And sure, when I listened to Light Up Gold I could hear some of that, but it’s lazy and really unfair to the band.

The band released a new album Sunbathing Animal earlier this year, but I hadn’t heard it when I went to see them at the Horseshoe a few weeks back.  I missed the first couple of bands because it was a Sunday night, and going out is getting harder (OK, Marcela, I admit it!) Alas, even with those opening bands, it was late.

Still, it was worth it. PC (sorry, I’m just to lazy to keep typing out the band’s name), brought a range of sounds. From short snappy punk, to pop sounds, to longer drones (I admit, I liked the latter the best). Very cool, and the nearly full Horseshoe crowd responded in kind. One odd thing that I’ve noticed at a few shows now, bands perform their encores without a break. A longer set, or a quick note and that’s it; house lights come up.

Good experience though.

 

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Post-Election Blues (or something Like that)

June 22, 2014 at 2:35 pm (Uncategorized)

Erm.  It’s been two weeks since my last post, so I’m going to say the shock of the Ontario Liberals re-election and a majority of that shocked me into silence. Don’t buy it? OK, just busy at work then.

But that, election…To borrow from Dickens, it was the most cynical of times, it was the most cynical of times.:

  • The governing Liberals in power since 2003 and despite a leadership change showing their age and caught up in a series of scandals, present a budget far to the left of previous ones in an attempt to entice the New Democrats to vote for it
  • The New Democrats after having supported earlier rightist budgets say no to this one. Then they run a right-of-Liberal populist campaign (which is largely ineffective)
  • Finally, the Conservatives play to their base, and make no effort to appeal to others. Their strategy seemed to be tack right and try to get out the vote (it didn’t seem to occur that their reduce public payroll by 100,000  might encourage those 100,000 to vote as well)

In the end, an outcome few foresaw, a majority for the Liberals. My hope that Tory leader Tim Hudak would be eaten alive by his party a la Walking Dead, has been unfulfilled, but he was forced out sooner than he wanted.

Of course, in the bigger picture, the Liberals will likely carry out many of the same policies as the Tories. Probably not as brutally, but the end result will differ little. Bread and circuses, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, feel free to add the cliché you like.

At least the weather is a little nicer now. (and it’s only four months until the Municipal election)

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The CIA’s first Tweet

June 7, 2014 at 9:33 pm (Uncategorized)

“We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.”

Oh very good.

So, if you’re a murderous government agency which has a blood-soaked legacy of assassination, overthrowing “unfriendly” governments and blowbacks including promoting Islamic fundamentalists who were thought to be a lesser problem than leftist secularists, a sense of humour really is important.

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Elections Everywhere. Pass the Bottle.

June 7, 2014 at 9:18 pm (Uncategorized)

While I don’t usually vote, elections still hold a measure of interest for me, and I do like to, uh, participate. It might just be to test my bullshit detector, but it’s more likely just a fascination with the process of how we are managed under capitalism. Currently, I’m facing three elections. A provincial, a union one, and in the fall a municipal one.

The 2014 Ontario provincial election might go down on record as the most boring on record. Not a single piece of campaign literature has come into my mailbox. A few nights ago, I picked up the phone and a recording of the Conservative candidate told me that he was trying to meet every one in the riding, but since that was impossible he was relying on modern technology to reach people. (Erm, the telephone has been around for quite some time actually. Modern is hardly the word I’d use …) Turns out I was invited to participate in a “town hall meeting” (read: calls screened, no real answers offered). When they called back the following evening, my son hung up on them thinking they were telemarketers.  And that was that.

[Actually, a few hours after I wrote the above, the Liberals called to ask if they could count on our votes here]

So the governing Liberals ask voters to forget the years of scandal and essentially say vote for us because Tim Hudak’s Tories are scary. And they are. Hudak, whose shaky grasp of math (a person who works for eight years in a new job does not mean eight new jobs have been created) underscores his degree in the dismal science.  Not to mention the Conservative’s wet dream of cuts, cuts, cuts. And then there’s the NDP who triggered the election because they believed they could displace the Liberals (but seemed OK with Hudak becoming premier), yet have run an incoherent campaign with policies to the right of the Liberals and will likely have fewer seats for their efforts.  The comic relief here is that while the NDP have pissed off their left-wing and distressed sections of their base, the “Trotskyist” left of the International Socialists, Socialist Action and whatever Militant are calling themselves now are still beating the bushes for the party.  So I think, twelve million people or so in Ontario, this is the best bourgeois democracy has to offer?

The union election is comic relief. I work in the public sector and union membership comes with the job. Last month the “cousin” of the union I’m in had its election and the entire executive was re-elected. I can’t believe the members were so happy with the job, they decided to give them all another year of expense accounts; more likely they realized it wouldn’t make any difference who got it. But I digress. Since my local is spread over many workplaces, it’s a mail-in ballot. The day I received my ballot, I also received a letter from the current exec, the purpose of which was to trash the opposition slate. Pretty dreary stuff. The opposition slate promised a number of vague and hard-to-realize demands, “more democracy!”, “more transparency” even though many of them had been union bureaucrats as well. I think I might actually vote for the third candidate for president who included no picture or details on the ballot. Surprise!

Last but not least comes the municipal election later this year, or as it’s sometimes known the Rob Ford show. Ford as you know has received international notice as Toronto’s crackhead Mayor, but he  recently entered rehab. Still, he just can’t seem to stay out of the headlines. His SUV was impounded and the drunken driver (not Ford) arrested just a little while back. And last week, stories emerged that the Fabulous Ford Brothers lobbied the city for contracts for a printer that their family business was also talking to.  More of this gory story can be found in Robyn Doolittle’s depressing book, Crazy Town.

Sad thing this, the Fords’ have already won, because all of the candidates talk like Ford now. No, no, not the racism, the homophobia, the almost pathological aversion to telling the truth, and the bullying boorishness which are Ford trademarks, but the language of respecting the taxpayer and fiscal responsibility is on everyone’s lips. The left’s candidate, Olivia Chow, boasts financial strictness and continually reminds us that as an immigrant, she knows the value of a dollar.

And yet, this seems to be the way, the business of politics is arranged. But more than likely, I will be sitting in front of the TV watching the results (unless of course, there’s something good on another channel)’

Just to change the focus a little here at the end, there’s a very interesting piece posted on Libcom by a member of IP called Towards a Critique of the Democratic Form. It’s not about elections, but it does raise some interesting points about the broader question of organization.

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Music Notes May 2014

May 31, 2014 at 9:58 pm (Uncategorized)

Lots of new stuff this month

1. Looking for Johnny

The classic story. Boy loves baseball, boy discovers the Beatles, boy forms great but unappreciated band, boy discovers drugs, then pisses away his talent over a decade or two, showing increasingly fewer signs of brilliance before dying prematurely in squalid circumstances. Now, Looking for Johnny, the new Johnny Thunders documentary does have some brilliant footage and it’s worth seeing for that, but the production and editing does leave  little to be desired; the audio in particular is particularly sloppy. It’s also interesting for who is interviewed an who isn’t/ Sylvain Sylvain appears, but David Johansen doesn’t. Walter Lure does, but Richard Hell doesn’t. Oh, and there’s also the skeletor-like Billy Rath. Interesting, but only essential for fans.

2. Chrissie Hynde – “Dark Sunglasses”

Damn! Chrissie Hynde is 62 and she still sounds sexy. The album doesn’t come out for a couple of weeks, but this is the single: The very cool sounding pop she’s been effortlessly turning out for decades.

3. Lykke Li – I Never Learn

Oh Lykke, that’s OK. As long as you keep producing these Spectoresque album of loss, we won’t criticize. The new album is not quite as immediate as  Wounded Rhymes, but a few plays reveal, the majesty of the record. I usually like poppier, faster songs, but there’s something gloriously melancholic about these tunes. Get some.

4. Promised Land Sound - Fadin Fast

Saw these guys a couple of weeks back opening for Angel Olsen. Kinda Jayhawks-like in their sounds, but that’s not a bad thing is it.

5. Only Lovers Left Alive – Soundtrack

If you haven’t seen this intelligent vampire movie directed by Jim Jarmusch, go and check it out. Then get the soundtrack. Spooky, atmospheric stuff mostly composed by Jarmusch.  Then see the movie again.

6. Bush Tetras – “Too Many Creeps”

This turned up on a comp. I came across this month. Punk-funk from the early days.

7. Black Keys – Turn Blue

Huh? After the cheesy psych-pop of “Fever,” the finished album is a fairly faithful Black Keys’ blues-soul record. Too be honest, I was hoping for more of the single, but the album is quite tasty. There’ s a lovely slow burning opener, “Weight of Love,” and only the final song “Gottta Getaway” sounds like a throwback. Interesting piece for the lads.

8. The Pixies – Indie Cindy

Who was it said the best you can hope for when a favourite band reforms is they don’t suck completely? So what to make of the Pixies Indie Cindy?I like the fact that new material was Kim Deal’s idea because she knew it would piss people off. I like it less that Kim doesn’t appear, but they hired someone to sound like her backing vocals. And while I didn’t get the EPs, I can imagine someone who did resenting the fact this is being marketed as a new album when there are no unreleased songs on it. Enough? What about the music. Erm, it’s…OK. I liked “Silver Snail” and “Snakes” and to be fair, there’s nothing that made me want to skip onto the next track, btu there’s also nothing that thrilled me in the way so many other Pixies records have. It’s a successor to Trompe le Monde, sure, but it’s the last place Pixies album for me.

9. Blood Red Shoes – In Time to Voices

From a couple of years back, the BRS album is not quite as much of a sonic assault as their lives shows, but still, a pretty solid record. Punky, but thoughtful too.

10. Holly George-Warren – Alex Chilton: A Man Called Destruction

A lovingly detailed biography of Alex Chilton following him through the pop success of the Boxtops and the critical triumphs of Big Star, through the shambling punk years and his final metamorphosis into a kind of rock revival interpreter. In each phase of his career, Chilton displayed a brilliance, and it shines thorough in Warren-Holly’s amazing biography.

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Anarchy in Montreal 2014 – A Brief Report

May 31, 2014 at 10:24 am (Uncategorized)

It’s been said that anarchist has a broad back, that it encompasses many things. The truth of that statement is evident to anyone who visits the annual Anarchist Bookfair in Montreal: from Platformists, to syndicalists, to feminists, to anti-Police-brutality activists, to publishers, to First Nations, to  ultra-left Marxists (sorry self-reference here) and every one in-between the bookfair is a dazzling display of (anti)political diversity.

The bookfair began in 2000, but over its fifteen year existence has grown into a month-long festival of which the centre point is the two-day bookfair which was held last weekend. I always imagine that I will be able to table both days, but this time of year is busy for me, and I always seem to flake out. Ahh, next year.

My sales were up a little from last year, and I had some very interesting conversations with attendees. I did see a few more Zapatista t-shirts than previous year (not a good thing in my opinion), but such is life. This is still oee of the big events of the year for me.

When I opened up my in box this morning there was a reminder about the Toronto bookfair which is taking place in July 19. Hope to see you there.

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