Sniff Walk

April 18, 2015 at 2:38 pm (Uncategorized)

A few years ago I went to Belgium in March. The day I left, there was a blizzard here. When I arrived in Brussels, the flowers were blooming. I mention this here because this winter seem to never be coming to an end. There’s actually a warning of snow for this coming Thursday, but it doesn’t mean my neighbours should still have their Christmas lights up.

I digress.

In some or other book on or by the Situationist International I read about the idea of exploring a city using the map of another, thus opening the explorer up to new, erm, avenues. Which brings me round to the point at the start. During the winter months, walking the dog can be a grim chore. It’s cold and the dog gets filthy every time (my dog is white so…), but when the weather warms, it becomes a joy.

I read somewhere about a “sniff walk.” Basically, instead of walking the usual route, you allow the dog to set the pace and the direction, stopping to sniff whatever and for how long he wants. (I should state too that my dog walks are pretty relaxed anyway, and the dog usually gets to sniff whatever he wants)

So for the most part, you get a much longer, but still familiar route. However, about three-quarters of the way through one of our usual routes, Lester opted to go straight instead of left. As a result we made a much wider swing and ended up going  along paths he had seldom travelled. He became much more excited, going along new routes and getting to pee in new places.

And as you walk, you notice new things too. Not least with people. When you walk a dog, people are more willing to be friendly. I usually smile, nod hello or say good morning, but still a significant number of people ignore you. My dog never ignores another dog. Sure, there’s sometimes snarls or alpha dog moves, but never indifference. (I wonder too about the people engaged in animated cell phone conversations when walking the dog – just enjoy the moment; don’t wish you were elsewhere)

Lastly, I read something once about Ivan Pavlov and his dogs. Apparently here was a flood in one of his labs. A pipe burst or something and many of his dogs drowned. Some were able to kick open their cages and escape. The ones that escaped, forgot their training. The liberating effect of freedom. We can learn a lot from dogs.

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Demographically Significant?

April 18, 2015 at 2:37 pm (Uncategorized)

In the circles where I travel, work, social and political, overt racism is rare. Not unknown, but generally people know to keep socially unacceptable comments under wraps.

Last week’s comments by NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre then, don’t  fit into that category:

“Eight years of a demographically significant president is enough.”

Demographically significant? Oh, you mean, the U.S. has had a black president, now it might get a woman? How awful. What about all of the poor white men who would like to be president. (And of course, when I say poor, I mean unfortunate not actually poor – you can’t be president unless you’re rich)

OK, I’ll stop now, since sarcasm doesn’t always travel that well.

What LaPierre and his increasingly demographically insignificant base seem to miss is that Obama has been a faithful steward carrying out policies every bit as awful as Bush, and Hilary Clinton, if she gets the chance, will carry on just the same.

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Are You Ready For Super-Rock? The Fleshtones at the Horseshoe

April 12, 2015 at 11:11 pm (Uncategorized)

What was it Lenin said about music? You can do blues, opera, jazz, classical and country until you’re 150, but rock and rap are a young man’s game.  No wait, that was Grace Slick. Lenin said something about revolutionaries over the age of 55. I digress.

Thing is, the Fleshtones who played the Horseshoe Tavern last week to a small, but appreciative crowd are no longer young men. Singer Peter Zaremba is 60, Keith Streng is 59, and drummer Bill Milhizer is approaching 70. (Toronto’s Ken Fox is the baby of the group at  54), but the thing is they still play pretty hard. My usual rule is not to go to reunion show unless I never saw the band in their prime (going to see the Sonics in a couple of weeks) , but I did see the band in the mid-90s when they had been playing together for a couple of decades. Still, the band never broke up, so it isn’t a reunion.

Glad I went. They played an hour-long set followed by two encores and never sat still. I’m not familiar with a lot of the newer material, so it was nice to hear “Hexbreaker” as the first encore, but the new stuff didn’t sound particularly different. “Super-rock” they call it. And it was. The kind of thing that makes you want to get up and dance. Garage rock with a touch of soul.

Openers Crummy Stuff weren’t young men either, but they played a solid punk rock set that could have been the Vibrators or one of the other class of 77. Turns out the guitar player had been in Durango 95  – now there’s a name I hadn’t heard in many a year. Not sure if he went into the Purple Toads. It was a solid set. Too bad there weren’t more people there to hear it.

Hey, hey, let’s hear it for the old guys!

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Benjamin Booker at Lee’s Palace

April 7, 2015 at 1:31 am (Uncategorized)

The oddest thing that happened to me when I went to Benjamin Booker’s sold-out show at Lee’s Palace this past week was I got asked for ID at the door. Now, either this is a new guy on the door with rather poor eye-sight or the lighting outside is extremely flattering.

When I walked into Lee’s openers Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs were already half-way through their set. The band looked as if they had invested into some bearded hipster fantasy, but they rocked a lot harder than that. Garage punk? Power pop ‘n’ rock? Dunno. You should listen to their current album from Bandcamp where you can also get the first one for free.

Olivia Jean formerly of the Black Belles was up second. There’s a bit of a retro-vibe about Jean, but it wouldn’t be successful unless the songs were there. Jean played a good amount of  her Third Man debut Bathtub Love Killings, and generally built on the momentum from the opening act. The sound was a little muddy at the beginning with the vocals too low in the mix, but by the middle of the set, things were humming nicely.

Booker came on stage just before 11.  The three piece band played a furious garage-blues. Like Jean’s set, the sound was not so great at the start, but within a few numbers, everything was up to speed.  Not that it would have stopped Booker anyway. He tore up the stage, blasting through his album. Oddly though, the most powerful moments were mid-set in a song where Booker put aside his guitar and was accompanied only by fiddle and guitar, Booker stalked the stage in a drone-based  country epic. Didn’t catch the name of the song, but perhaps some helpful attendee could supply it. And then it was done. No encore, and we drifted away.

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Freedom of Religion Under Attack (I Wish)

April 5, 2015 at 9:27 pm (Uncategorized)

A few random thoughts then.

First, I’ll admit the post title was intended to be provocative, but really, after the events in Indiana this week, can you blame me?

Indiana passes a law that says if your religion (and by that we mean the Christian religion, try pulling this shit if you’re Muslim and see how far you get), compels you to dislike certain people (let’s start with gays and lesbians and see how that tracks) and you own a business, you can now claim “freedom of religion” for your bigotry and be legally protected.  The Onion got it just about right.

A few days later, after mounting pressure from a number of corporations including Wal-Mart (!) and Apple, along with public outcry, Indiana Governor Mike Pence made amendments which say, actually, we’d like you to be able to legally discriminate, but it looks as if we can’t. Sorry. Still, pretty much every Republican presidential hopeful weighed in on the side of Indiana only to backtrack and agree with the changes a day or two later. Rolling Stone has a good summary here.

It’s genuinely puzzling for me.  Racism is bad. Homophobia is bad. That should be a no-brainer. Yet, if I say, racism is OK because of my (religious) beliefs, that’s OK? Er, no.

I should say here though, that I don’t believe all religious people feel this way, and many are no doubt embarrassed by people trying to use their books to justify this behaviour.  I have no problem reading the Bible as an interesting work of fiction complete with some quite beautiful language and cool use of metaphor. It’s when people interpret it literally and claim it’s good for all time we run into problems. Christians, along with most of the world, used to think that slavery was OK. Not so any more.

Without getting too bogged down in the democratic rights boondoggle (be careful of your friends in this debate), the interesting thing in this situation is how powerful organizations and individuals paint themselves as outsiders under attack. The idea that Christianity is under attack in America is just too surreal for me.

A poll a few years ago asked people for disqualifying factors in voting for a presidential candidate. Sure enough some people said they wouldn’t vote for a Muslim, a homosexual, a woman etc. The biggest dis-qualifier though was if the candidate was an atheist.

That a significant number of powerful people read a book that was written 2,000 years ago as a literal truth for all time is a problem resulting in any number of social difficulties. Still, the rising number of non-believers in the US is cause for hope.

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The Business of ComiCon.

April 4, 2015 at 9:12 pm (Uncategorized) ()

Toronto ComiCon was a few weeks back.  Toronto ComiCon is the little brother to Fan Expo. It’s shorter, has fewer guests, workshops and exhibitors and a lot less free stuff. Still, me and the boy usually head down on the Sunday to sniff around, pick up a few things and get things signed.

This year, I became intrigued by the idea of the photo-op. For those who don’t know, the photo-op is a chance to get your picture taken with your celebrity of choice…for a fee. the more I thought about it, the more, the idea was interesting.  Looking through the possibilities.  I considered getting a picture of me and the boy with Karen Gillan. Again, for those of you who don’t know, She played Amy Pond on Dr. Who, as well as Nebula on the recent Guardians of the Galaxy movie (The unfortunate, unfunny and short-lived sit-com Selfie, we will not dwell on).

I’m one of those people who prefers to book in advance, so I went to the site. $65. OK. Let’s see what this works out in total. I clicked and advanced. For an extra $10, you get a digital copy. Well, I want that. Checkout time. $89.50. The good people at Fan Expo have added on a processing fee of $14. Fuck that. I didn’t bother to find out if that included tax.

Foiled in the photo-op, I looked to see if anything else was worth paying for. Well, Amber Benson who played Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was going to be there as well. I bought her latest book The Witches of Echo Park and thought, OK.

Come the day, the boy and I drifted around the hall. It’s quieter. I get a few things singed, including my copy of the Criminal Macabre collected edition. I got the book signed by Steve Niles a year back.  Now my copy also has Ben Templesmith’s autograph. Becky Cloonan and Ray Fawkes were nice enough to sign things for me as well.

So, finally we made our way over to the celebrity signing area. People were already lined up for Karen Gillan, but Amber Benson was a comparatively short wait. Then, it struck me. the artists and all signed books and chatted for nothing. Benson wanted $40 for her signature. Really? Now, nothing against Ms. Benson. This is the culture we live in. I walked away.

Sometimes I use the shorthand generalized commodity production to talk about capitalism, but it’s easy to forget what exactly that means. A commodity is a product which is produced for sale, not for consumption or use by the producer (it should be mentioned too, that ownership by the producer usually disappears, but that’s another day). And under capitalism, everything becomes a commodity. Even a signature based on fleeting fame.

The people who attend these events aren’t looking to get an autograph or a photo so they can sell it on eBay. They’re fans. they’re nerds. But this sort of stuff is big business, and there’s lots of money to be made. Sure, I’ll keep going, but this saddens me. On the other hand, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival is only a few weeks away now! Check that out, and it’s free too!  

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Music Notes March 2015

March 31, 2015 at 3:56 pm (Uncategorized)

Things of note and interest for your ears

1. The Sleaford Mods – Divide and Exit

Oh oh oh, I love these guys so. The breakthrough album.  Electronica? Rap? Punk? Who cares about labels? A very angry, very funny record full of tunes both caustic and hilarious. Tweet tweet tweet.

2. Benjamin Booker – s/t

Booker is a blues -punk from Virginia. This record, his debut, is a blistering breakneck blues that never quite got out of the garage. Not that it’s amateur hour, but it has that vitality that the best punk has. Standouts would be the single “Violent Shiver,” but I’m also partial to “Have you seen my son?” He’s playing a sold-out show at Lee’s Palace tonight. Looking forward to it.

3. Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville

In interviews promoting the album  Phair commented that it was a reply to Exile on Main Street. Nor sure how true that is, but when I put on the record in the car the other day, it’s greatness flooded back. “Divorce Song” may be the saddest song ever written.

4. The Dum Dum Girls – Too True

Now, it sounds great.  The production by Richard Gottehrer who produced the early Blondie records, and Sune Rose Wagner from the Ravonettes is perfect shimmery pop. But, and you knew that was coming, the tunes themselves are fairly nondescript. I liked listening to the record, but afterwards, I couldn’t remember a song or a lyric to sing along to next time.

5. The Violent Femmes – Hallowed Ground

After the slightly twisted but upbeat folk punk of their debut, Slash records must have thought they were on to a winner. Then the band delivered a dark album which begins with a chirpy song about a guy pushing his daughter down a well. It’s a masterpiece of an album, but needless to say, the religious fundamentalist twist and generally less catchy tunes made it destined to remain only an underground classic

6. Azelai Banks – Broke with Expensive Tastes

OK, I loved that first EP. Then I waited. And waited, and waited. Finally, the album arrived. Was it worth it? Ahh… dunno. To my ears a lot of it sounds the same, and the track which still really jumps is “212” from a couple of years back. Maybe, it’ll take a while to discover its charms.

7. The Pixies – Trompe le Monde

Funny thing is, this was traditionally the weakest Pixies album. But, after a listen last weekend, it sounds pretty fresh. “Planet of Sound”, the cover of “Head On” and “Subaculture” all sound great. Which led to …

8. The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psycho Candy

If you haven’t listened to it in a while. Do it. Remember how great it sounded when you heard it first. It still does.

9. Rhiannon Giddons – It’s My Turn Now

The debut solo record from the Carolina Chocolate Drops front person. A simply stunning collection of covers and one original song. Blues, country, pop, the title is prophetic.

10. Roy Orbison – The Essential

A 2-CD set going back a couple of years. Suddenly, I’m listening to Orbison a lot. There’s just something about that voice. Unless you want to spring for the box set “The Soul of Rock and Roll,” this is a pretty good collection except…the version of “In Dreams” is from the eighties not the original. It’s good, but the original is the one you want.

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Birthday Wishes

March 30, 2015 at 12:01 pm (Uncategorized)

My oldest, M, is 15 today. She used to love to hear the story of her birth. Now she just says “Oh, Dad…” She’s changed quite a bit since she started high school last year. Grown up.  We fight on occasion. But I couldn’t be more proud of her achievements and of her.

Happy Birthday.

Oh, and I should give a shout out to our dog Lester who turns 4 today. Bark! Bark!

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Don’t Mention the Civil War

March 29, 2015 at 7:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

No, not the American Civil War. Or the Spanish Civil War. No, the English Civil War.

But I need to back this up a little. My wife and I visit the public library 2-3 times a week (sometimes more). I love the library, and while I try not to accumulate fines, I didn’t really mind paying them. It’s money for an institution I support. Nothing makes me crazier than people who borrow and then destroy library materials: People who scratch CDs or DVDs, who steal inserts or who tear pages from magazines because they are too lazy or too cheap to photocopy them, but I digress. My wife even buys magazines from the library, and she recently picked up two copies of History Today for me.

The February 2014 issue has a piece on Britain’s reluctance to admit it once cut off the head of its king and was for a period of 12 years a republic. True, kings had met untimely ends before Charles I, but this was usually the result of assassination or falling in battle. Never had a sitting monarch been executed. A significant moment.

And yet, it’s something which doesn’t seem to get the attention it should. In 1989, when France was celebrating the 200th anniversary of its Revolution, Thatcher sniffed that the British had had their revolution a hundred years earlier largely without bloodshed. The “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 though was a conservative overthrow of the final Stewart King, James II and a consolidation of the power of parliament and the interests within. It did not open radical possibilities in the same way the Civil was had half a century earlier. From Thatcher’s perspective, that did make sense.

Still, the embarrassment with which these events are viewed today does seem odd, especially when such arch Conservatives as Winston Churchill viewed Cromwell as a hero.

Maybe I should look for more issues of the magazine.  You can read the article “Reluctant Regicides and judge for yourself.

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Basquiat at the Art Gallery of Ontario

March 22, 2015 at 6:27 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s been a a couple of moths since I was at the Art Gallery.

The AGO is hosting Canada’s first major Basquiat exhibition right now. Its a pretty impressive selection of pieces from Basquiat’s short but productive career.

Basquiat claimed three themes were contained in his work: Royalty (the often present crown in his work), heroism, and the street. Basquiat’s early work was in the street and often incorporated found materials into the product. (Basquiat did not refer to himself as a graffiti artist) Throughout his work familiar and repeated images and ideas:  Martin Luther King,  boxing, heroes, mysterious texts.

Walking through the exhibit, it felt as if I was exposed to a mysterious text with with half-finished thoughts and codes. Powerful, evocative.

Also at the AGO right now is a collection of photographs from the Lodz ghetto by Henryk Ross. Ross was a photographer who was assigned to take work permit pictures. In addition, and at high risk to himself and his family, Ross photographed, documented the ghetto in the hope one day the world would see his pictures. Shortly before he and his wife were sent to Auschwitz, he buried the negative. After the camp was liberated, Ross returned to Lodz and retrieved his photographs. The images are chilling. But essential, vital viewing.

Ross’ collection, entitled Memory Unearthed is on display until June 14. Basquiat’s show is until May 10. See both.

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