Alistair MacLeod: 1936-2014

April 21, 2014 at 7:24 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

Alistair MacLeod was born in Saskatchewan and spent most of his life as a teacher at the University of Windsor, but his heart, his identity, and above all his writing was from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

MacLeod died yesterday at the age of 77 following complications from a stroke suffered in January. His entire literary work consisted of two short story collections, The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) and  As Birds Bring Forth the Sun (1986), (both collections were later published as Island) and a novel No Great Mischief  (1999). Hardly an imposing body of work you might think. But you’d only think that if you hadn’t read them.

There’s a great deal of history in Cape Breton. A great sense of the past. Perhaps too much. It’s the kind of place where people who have lived there for generations might still be called newcomers. It’s a place where when people ask your name, it’s because they’re interested in your name. (My mother’s family name is Henderson, which makes me a good Scot). I once saw two cars on the main street in Antigonish (which is not on Cape Breton, so the value of this story is slightly diminished…) stop so the drivers could talk to each other, and no one honked. I knew then something was different.

I lived in Nova Scotia in the mid-nineties, and that’s where I first head MacLeod’s name (it was in an English class I was taking where there was some controversy of his use of the word “cocksucker” in  the story “In the Fall.” ), but I didn’t read any of his work until I came back to Ontario. More’s the pity. MacLeod was a  storyteller. Within a few paragraphs in many of his stories about working people in Cape Breton, he established a setting and characters so real you felt as if they were old friends.  To this day “To Everything there is a Season” is my favourite Christmas story.

I saw MacLeod give a reading of parts of his novel a year or so before it was published. To be honest, his performance wasn’t too good. He hadn’t prepared as well as he might have done, and his delivery was a little scatter shot. Ah, but when he found his mark, the words flowed and we were entranced.

It’s tempting to say, it’s a sad day for Cape Breton or Nova Scotia or Canada or whatever. It’s broader than that. It’s a sad day for literature.

Permalink Leave a Comment

The National Conquer Toronto

April 21, 2014 at 4:17 pm (Uncategorized)

Bit late with this one…sorry

In general, I prefer to go to venues where I can see the colour of the singer’s eyes. I just don’t like the big sites. That said, if your favourite band has grown to such size that they won’t play those beloved tiny clubs, Massey Hall is not a bad bet. It holds a little over 2,700 people, and last week, the National sold out the place three nights in a row.

I’ll confess up front I wasn’t particularly familiar with the band, but what little I heard was interesting. I just wasn’t quite ready for the adoration of the crowd.

First up were England’s Daughter. They seemed to straddle two groups, but belonged to neither:  Too poppy to be shoegazers, too speedy to be dream-poppers, but definitely influenced by both. The slower songs dragged a little, and the pieces that worked best happened when the band pushed rave-ups. (the last couple of songs in their set built to satisfying conclusions).

The National strolled onstage more or less on cue, with singer Matt Berninger, wine glass in hand, looking a lot like that hip university professor you liked.  In fact, during the set, Berninger paced the stage rather liked a professor delivering a lecture.

The band played through their archives with what I assume according to the crowd reaction were fan favourites. They seemed louder and rockier that the tracks I’d heard, and that seemed to be what the audience wanted. People rushed to the front even before the band appeared, and the momentum built throughout the set.

After a generous ninety minute set, the band return to play a four-song encore. I wouldn’t describe myself as a fan of the band before or after the show, but sometimes it’s nice to go to a show without a sense of the band and go home happy.


Set list (from

1. Don’t Swallow the Cap
2. I Should Live in Salt
3. Mistaken for Strangers
4. Sorrow
5. Bloodbuzz Ohio
6. Sea of Love
7. Hard to Find
8. Afraid of Everyone
9. Conversation 16
10. Squalor Victoria
11. I Need My Girl
12. This is the Last Time
13. Wasp Nest
14. Abel
15. Slow Show
16. Racing Like a Pro
17. Pink Rabbits
18. England
19. Graceless
20 Fake Empir


1. Humiliation
2. Mr. November
3. Terrible Love
4. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks



Permalink Leave a Comment

Record Store Day 2014

April 19, 2014 at 12:41 pm (Uncategorized)

Today is Record Store Day Go support something cool.

I can’t remember the first record I bought, but I do remember the thrill of some purchases.

Starring at the cover of Raw Power and thinking “Who is this madman?”

Bringing home the Sex Pistols album knowing my parents would hate it.

Waiting for the store to open so I could buy London Calling the day it came out.

Buying Rock n Roll Animal at Sam’s and not realizing tax wasn’t included in the price

And so it goes. So many more. A download just doesn’t have that thrill. If you’re in Toronto, Rotate This, Soundscapes, Sonic Boom, She Said the Boom, and many others are no doubt setting out their wares even as you read this.


Permalink Leave a Comment

The Sky Between the Leaves

April 15, 2014 at 5:40 pm (Uncategorized)

Got a copy of David Walsh’s book The Sky Between the Leaves yesterday. Walsh is the arts editor for the World Socialist Web Site. I haven’t done more than flick through the table of contents, but even from that you can see it’s an important book.

A typical leftist film review (yes, Socialist Worker I’m talking about you here) seizes upon  point to proclaim it anti-capitalist (e.g., the bad guy runs a corporation), and then ends with a complaint that the film didn’t end in revolution. Walsh’s reviews are, in contrast, thoughtful analysis and commentary from someone who clearly loves film.

Walsh’s book contains essays, reviews and interviews on cinema, news and old. Well worth tracking down, You don’t have to agree with him to appreciate the value of his work.


Permalink Leave a Comment

Ten Thoughts About Captain America: The Winter Soldier

April 15, 2014 at 4:37 pm (Uncategorized)

Saw the new Captain America movie the other night. Now just a few random thoughts. oh, yeah, SPOILER ALERT

1. It was so much better than I had hoped, I almost forgot there was a Captain America 1.  The fight scenes were fantastic with only a couple of  moments where the CGI/effects were weak. Such a strong cast, and so many fun Marvel characters brought in. (Thought Batroc would have a bigger part, but glad he wasn’t played as a clown) Yes, it’s true the montage /post-climax got a little muddy, but overall pretty good.

2.  It may be the funniest Marvel movie made. (or at least as funny as the Avengers). Sample dialogue:

Nick Fury: Get me [SHIELD agent Maria] Hill now!

Fury car: Communications array is offline.

Nick Fury: Then what’s not broken?

Fury car: Air conditioning is fully operational.

3. Captain America was never my favourite Marvel character. He was just too square-jawed and well, patriotic, to relate to. Only when he did some soul-searching and questioned authority or rather its quasi-fascistic side, did he appear interesting. As a result, Cap’s character in the movie is a lot more interesting too.

4. The Winter Soldier is still cooler. C’mon. A Soviet trained assassin with a bionic arm, they wake-up to kill people every few years? What’s not to love?

5. But, getting back to point number three; much is made of how HYDRA subverts S.H.I.E.L.D.’s purpose, but HYDRA essentially picks up the ball and runs with it. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s plan is to stop the terrorists before they commit their terrorist-y acts; HYDRA says “let’s kill 20, 000,000 people to see it through” . It’s the vigilante question again. Who watches the watchmen?

6. I loved the way it was filled with little nerd asides – the Winter Soldier catches Cap’s shield in a way that foreshadows Bucky briefly replacing Steve Rogers as Captain America.

7. In the obligatory mid-credit scene showing Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, Elizabeth Olson looks positively deranged. Very creepy cool!

8. Glad to see the Black Widow’s has widow’s stings now in addition to the power of super-butt.

9.  I may have to see it again to catch see Joss Whedon’s cameo and to figure out which scientist Ed Brubaker played.

10. Saw trailers for the X-Men: Days of Future Past, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Amazing Spider-Man 2, and the movie itself mentioned Stephen Strange (ohh, ooh), and there was no mention of Ant-Man. Bright days ahead!

Permalink Leave a Comment

A night with Dean Wareham at the Horseshoe Tavern

April 13, 2014 at 11:00 pm (Uncategorized)

My meeting with the work of Dean Wareham came not through a record, but a book. I was travelling to Florida and needed something for the plane. I walked on with Black Postcards, Wareham’s autobiography. Sure, sure I knew Galaxie 500 and Luna, but I’d never really paid them than much attention. Time to change. The book was such a good read, I knew that I had to know all about these bands. And very soon, I did. and then waited years to see him live.

Opening band Elsa played a (dream) poppy set, which warned things nicely for the main event

Wareham, and his band, including his wife and former Luna member Britta Phillips ambled onto the stage at 10:30.  An old joke has it that people would often yell at Galaxie 500 shows, “Play slower! Play slower!” Whether that story has any basis in reality or is merely apocryphal, the effect of listening to Wareham live (or at home for that matter) is of a slow burning fire, gathering in intensity, burning in energy.

Between songs Wareham chatted to the audience about the weather, the Mayor of Toronto, and the experience crossing into Canada. If it seems dreary, it wasn’t. It felt as if we were speaking with an old friend who played some of his favourite songs for us. A spellbinding intimacy.

The set drew from throughout his career including many old Galaxie 500 favourites through to the new album. Sure, sure, I would have liked to hear “Fourth of July” or the covers of “Final Day” or “Submission,” but the closing song of the night was a sublime cover New Order’s “Ceremony,” so any complaints would merely seem churlish.

As I drove home, I wonder why three decades in a rich career he was playing a small venue like the Horseshoe instead of Massey Hall. For the audience, we were the lucky ones.

Set (Courtesy of Set list FM)

1. Emancipated Heart
2. Blue Thunder
3.Heartless People
4. When will you come Home
5. The Dancer Disappears
6. Holding Pattern
7. Tiger Lily
8. Love is Not a Roof Against the Rain
9. Babes in the Wood
10. Tugboat
11. Indian Summer


Happy and Free

Permalink Leave a Comment

The Night of the Hunter

April 4, 2014 at 2:14 pm (Uncategorized)

I watched The Night of the Hunter again a few days back for the first time in over  two decades. It made a powerful impression on me then; an impression that has not been dimminished by time. (I’ll bet it impressed Nick Cave too, because his old testiment southern gothic bit is very familar)

The Night of the Hunter is interesting in many ways beyond the story. It was Charles Laughton’s only turn as director. It was Lillian Gish’s last starring role, and it was arguably Robert Mitchum’s greatest role. (In Cape Fear, Mitchum essentially updates Hunter’s Harry Powell  as Max Cady) Yet despite its status as a classic, back in 1955, the film was a failure, both commerically and critically.

The Night of the Hunter stars Robert Mitchum as a vicious woman-hater named Harry Powell (based on real-life serial killer Harry Powers) who learns of  $10,000 from a robbery committed by condemned cell mate Ben Harper (a young Peter Graves), and makes it his mission to claim it. Powell also plays a fundementalist preacher (and uses it to justify his beliefs) working the tattoos of love and hate across the knuckles of his hand (sound familiar Clash fans?) into a Bible story. Mitchum’s portrayal as the alternately charming, then murderous preacher is mesmorizing.

Haunting beautiful and terrifying images litter the film, almost casual in their inclusion: Shelley Winters murdered, sitting in a car at the bottom of the river, her hair drifting in the current; Powell’s lurching pursuit of the children in a basement brings to mind old monster movies; the peace of the river sharply contrasted with the horror of Powell and just out of reach home and safety; even the lynch mob which coems for Powell recalls the scene at the end of Frankenstein. The black and white of the film casting odd shadows from strange angles.

There’s a dualism that runs through the film, of left hand hate and right hand love. Of religion as sweetness and salvation (Rachel as New Testiment) and as violence and vengance (Powell as the Old). And there’s the children. They abide, as Rachel notes, but we all know the most successful childhood stories are the ones that recall the real fear of being a child and not being beleived by the gownups (go and re-read some of Neil Gaiman’s work).

The Night of the Hunter reminds us why we love movies.

Permalink Leave a Comment

The Ford Follies part….

April 4, 2014 at 2:10 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

Oh, who’s even counting anymore?

But, here’s the skinny. During a council meeting on Wednesday, Mayor Ford was the sole person to vote against naming a street after Nelson Mandela. Governments like stuff like this. It looks nice, but it doesn’t really cost anything. (In New York, there’s a bench in a park named after Dr. Feelgood singer Lee Brilleaux, but that might be the result of a donation) In addition, Mandela is still wildly popular. Safer too now that he’s dead, so it seemed like a no-brainer.

Well, Ford, who has made a career of being the contrarian, voted no. And curiously also against sending a greeting to Canada’s Olympic athletes. Several theories have been put forward: Ford wasn’t paying attention; Ford simply votes to piss people off; Ford really believed he was right, but later buckled.

Thirty minutes after the vote became public, Ford claimed he had made a mistake and wanted to change his vote. In the press scrum, he claimed it was immediately, but when corrected stormed off in a huff.

Leave it to brother Doug Ford to make the case: He argued, “No one in this city supports the black community more than Rob Ford. No one. Bottom line. Zing. Done. And no one supports the Olympic athletes more than Rob Ford.” Well, I know he’s a supporter of some young black entrepreneurs (I believe there’s a video to mark the occasion), but that might be a matter for the courtsm, so I’ll say no further.

 In the end, Toronto City Council after initially denying the opportunity, gave Ford the chance to change his vote. Rob, Rob, have the courage of your convictions. Just like Rob Anders who famously voted not to give Mandela honourary Canadian citizenship because he was a “communist” and a “terrorist.” Years later Anders was unrepentant.  And still regarded as a dick, but you can’t have everything.

The sad thing is that Ford’s antics will actually convince people that it will make a difference if they choose a different Mayor. True, the next one won’t be such a comic buffoon-de-force, but the business of the city will largely remain the same.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Link Updates

March 31, 2014 at 2:01 pm (Uncategorized)

I added a couple of new links to the blogroll:

Red Wedge Magazine

The Chagall Position



Permalink Leave a Comment

Music Notes March 2014

March 30, 2014 at 10:05 pm (Uncategorized)

Here we are then.

1. Wilko Johnson / Roger Daltrey – Going Back Home

Wilko’s last album, blah, blah, blah. That’s not important. What is important is that this is a collaboration between an amazing singer and an equally amazing guitarist. It takes a little getting used to hearing Daltrey’s vocals on some of the tracks, , and for my money the production is a little too clean, but there’s a warmth and a love of rock and roll that this record exudes that’s unbeatable. A joy to hear.

2. The Strypes – Snapshot

From the other end of the spectrum then. The debut album by four Irish lads who’ve spent a lot of time listening to the early Stones, Yardbirds, Pretty Things, Dr. Feelgood, Eddie and the Hot Rods etc  and have come up with something quite wonderful.  Tasteful covers and inspiring originals, but it all honesty, live is how you want to hear these songs.

3. Quadrophenia

Saw this again this month. I think I saw this on TV in the early eighties, and no doubt missed a lot of it. (who knows what was cut out). I read somewhere mod purists find a lot of complain about in it, but it’s still a fascinating portrait of a subculture and a youth who is slowly falling apart (great soundtrack too). Oh, and the ending is different from what I remember too. Get the Criterion edition. It’s worth it.

4. Dean Wareham – Dean Wareham

Mentioned the EP last month. Here’s the full length album. Similar to a lot of Wareham’s work, the songs are slow but burn with intensity. If you’re a fan, you already know. Can’t wait until the show next week. Horseshoe Tavern April 9.

5. The Black Keys – “Fever”

I imagine more than a few people will be surprised by the sound of this. A much poppier, less bluesier sound, but fueled by a completely addictive organ riff. The album is out May 12.

6. The Small Faces – “All or Nothing “

In last month’s Mojo, there’s a Small Faces and friends CD including a remastered version of this little classic. Go get it

7.  The New Mendicants – Into the Lime

Ex Teenage Fanclub + Ex Pernice Brother= fab pop. You be the judge (although here’s a clue- yes)

8.  These New Puritans – Field of Reeds

If you liked the first two TNP albums (as I did), this one is a bit of a shock. Less a collection of songs than a sound spread across a recording. My daughter commented that it sounded like a soundtrack – she might be right. There’s a moodiness, an ambiance, which is impossible to digest in a single meal. Very ambitious, very challenging, and certainly worth exploring.

9. Mudhoney – “Touch Me I’m Sick”

Ooh, is it too early to complain about the licensing of this song for PS4?

10. Dick Hebdige – Subculture

Not a record, not a film, but a book. Not even about music, but about culture, specifically subculture. Subtitled the meaning of style. Isn’t all music about style? About subculture? Anyway, an old book dating to the 70s, but very insightful. Have a read.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Next page »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28 other followers