Fall is Coming; Get Out Your Wallet

July 2, 2015 at 11:19 pm (Uncategorized)

If you live in Canada, you’ve no doubt heard the joke that there are two seasons in Canada: Winter and July.

Not quite true, but the shortness of summer is keenly felt. More so by the fact that the back-to-school ads, reminding us that the cold weather is just around the corner, seem to get earlier and earlier. “It’s only a matter of time,” I said to a friend, “before they’re running back to school ads before school has finished.”

Jul 1st, I was watching TV when an ad came on for a Buffalo car dealership and its Labour Day sale. Not quite, but close enough.

I smile when I hear people complain that the holidays (especially Christmas) have become so commercial. You’re kidding, right? Capitalism is an economic system where everything becomes a commodity, something for sale.

You don’t want everything in life to be reduced to a sales pitch, let’s make a system where the basis of life isn’t the value-form.

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Not Quite Another Normal Day

July 1, 2015 at 2:13 pm (Uncategorized)

Canada Day. Ooh, Google picture. And that’s about it for me. But my daughter decided she wanted to photograph the Scarborough Bluffs at sunrise.

So, we got up at 3:45 and drove to the beach with her, my wife, sister-in-law and niece.

It was dark when we got there. Dark and foggy. It stayed foggy until well after sunrise.

Still, it was cool to be there. I felt like starting my Gothic romance set in the 18th century in the wilds of Scotland Canada. I don’t have any desire to live in a rural environment, but sometimes it’s nice to get away from the city (even better when you can do this and not leave the city)

I still don’t care about Canada Day, but it was a good way to begin.

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Music Notes June 2015

June 30, 2015 at 9:56 pm (Uncategorized)

Ready for summer?

1. Prodigy – The Day is my Enemy

Well, I don’t know if the Prodigy will ever make another record as good as The Fat of the Land (recently re-released in a deluxe format), but The Day is My Enemy is a pretty good attempt. I’ve seen a few reviews that suggest this is just a re-tread, but listen to  the title track, “Nasty” and the Sleaford Mods collaboration “Ibiza” and see if that matters.

2. The  Psychedelic Furs – The Psychedelic Furs

I bought this album a year or so after it came out, and then the CD version twenty years after that. If Roxy Music were punks and did a lot of other drugs then maybe. From the sad otherworldly “Sister Europe” to the irony-laced “We Love You,” it’s an amazing record. Still not crazy about the two minutes of barely audible noise at the beginning of the record, but no one’s perfect.

3. The Strypes – Now She’s Gone.

New album Little Victories coming soon.


4. The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers

The Rolling Stones have produced some of the greatest records of the last century, although my general feeling is that as a band they have been crap longer than they were great. Still, Sticky Fingers is a great record, and likely fans will shell out for the admittedly quite excellent remastering and the bonus disc of alternative versions and live cuts. Still, don’t you feel a little bit cheated? Especially since if you want to get the bootleg Get Your Leeds Lungs Out, you have to pick up the super deluxe version of whatever it’s called. Mick, I know Keith doesn’t care, so do you really need the money this badly?

5. Richard Thompson – Still

Richard Thompson. Jeff Tweedy. Nuff said? Available in regular and deluxe formats.

6. Various Artists – Sherwood at the Controls volume 1: 1979-83

A compilation of early Adrian Sherwood productions including stuff by the Fall, Shriekback, Mark Stewart and an ultra-rare Slits song. Very cool.

7. Marie Osmond – “Karawane”

Sure, sure, I always had a soft spot for “Paper Roses,” but this is off the chart. Marie Osmond performing Hugo Ball’s Dada sound poem “Karawane.” Nothing I can say does it justice.


8. Rachel Kushner – Flamethrowers

Last month’s Music Notes piece was given over to books. This one didn’t make the list and it’s not even about music, but Kushner’s novel has that rock and roll energy, resistance, the joy of being young and so forth. Quite stunning.

9. Led Zeppelin – “Sugar Mama”

So this is the buzz. An unreleased outtake from 1968 will appear on the Coda reissue coming next month. Yeah, it’s a pretty good blues jam, but it’s not the Holy Grail either. There’s usually a reason why such tracks are never released. Good, not great, but still worth a listen.

10. Various artists – Wanna Buy a Bridge?

Released in the early 1980s as a Rough Trade sampler, it may be the best post-punk compilation ever. The Pop Group, the Slits, the Raincoats, Cabaret Voltaire, Swell Maps, Delta 5, Still Little Fingers and more. Not a miss in the box.

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Burn Baby Burn

June 29, 2015 at 11:51 am (Uncategorized)

Or not…

In the days before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling about gay marriage, right-wing anti-gay Rick Scarborough made the following statement:

“We are not going to bow, we are not going to bend, and if necessary we will burn.”

Scarborough’s comments were immediately interpreted to mean if the court OK-ed gay marriage, he would set himself on fire. Wow! You’re so committed to this course of hatred and bigotry, you’d set yourself ablaze to make a point. That beats that Australian couple who threatened to divorce if gay marriage was legalized there.

But the court ruled and…

Scarborough’s publicist clarified that Scarborough was referring to a spiritual “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego,” and he  meant they would resist.

Ah, Rick, you mean you made an old semi-obscure reference placed in a different context which was misinterpreted by people in an overly literal sense. Sort of like how many read the Bible to justify their beliefs.

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Notes on Charleston

June 25, 2015 at 4:38 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s difficult to write commentary on the mass shootings in the U.S. that happen with disturbing frequency (a study I read in the Times on the weekend suggested they average one every three weeks), mostly because there are so many of them, but also because the narrative changes so quickly.

So, here are a few memorable troupes.

1. It’s the War on Christians (again)

The attempt by Fox and Friends among others to paint this as an attack on religion, and using a failed black republican candidate pastor E.W. Jackson, who has called gays a plague and was OK with the three-fifths compromise, to do it.  To be fair to Fox and Friends, this was before the Dylann Roof was arrested,  and even after that  Mike Huckerbee, Rick Santorum and a number of Republican presidential candidates said the same thing. However, the very idea that the victims were targeted because they were Christians is, as one wag put it, like saying 911 was an act of architectural critique.

2. Barack Obama on auto-pilot.

How many times has Obama given this speech? 12, 13 times? You would have thought someone could have hired a software designer to write a program for him that just spit out the relevant details whenever this happens.The notion of gun control was floated, but if the massacre of school children at Sandy Hook couldn’t produce change, you have to wonder what will.

3. The False Flag Brigade

Almost as soon as the news event happened, the conspiracy industry began geering up. On the right, it was those who saw this as the Obama administrations attempt to take away guns. (why worry – if Obama’s agenda has been to take away guns, he’s not very good at it) And on the “left,” there have been suspicious mumbling about how the security apparatus could have missed someone like Roof. The only possible conclusion? They created him like Lee Harvey Oswald. Actually you only have to read the comment section in pretty much any on line forum to read these opinions.

4. The Rick Perry Misspeak

A day after the shootings, Rick Perry was on TV giving his opinions. During the segment, Perry referred to the shootings as an accident. Twice. A spokesperson later insisted that Perry merely misspoke. He meant to say “incident. ” Odder though, was the attempt by Perry to link it to prescription medication given to vets (Perry’s pet issue)

5. The Von Clownstick Bluster

In his speech announcing his candidacy for president, Von Clownstick made a number of ugly slanders  and argued that most Mexican who came to the US were murders, rapists or criminals (along with a few good people, he conceded – huh). After the killings, Hillary Clinton argued rhetoric like Von Clownstick’s contributed to such events. The response on Instagram:

“Wow! It’s pretty pathetic that Hillary Clinton just blamed me for the horrendous attack that took place in South Carolina. This is why politicians are just no good. Our country’s in trouble.”

And again, I note, these are the best and the brightest America has to offer?

6. The NRA: Blame the Victim

NRA Board member Charles Cotton hands down wins the tone-deaf comment award

“He [Rev. Pinckney] voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.”

Cotton, you may remember, wrote in January that spanking a child may prevent people like Cotton having to shoot them when they get older. Uh huh. Because the reason for the rise of violent criminals is not enough spanking, right?

The NRA though distanced itself noting that individual board members do not speak for the organizations, in other words a weasel excuse.

8. Oh, you mean the Confederate Flag is a symbol of Racism?

I will say, the collapse of support for the Battle Flag of the Confederacy surprised me. You’d be hard pressed to find someone in favour of keeping the flag. Of course, a few whined that Republicans were being unfairly tarred with being flag defenders when it was the Dixiecrats in 1948 who were responsible for its rebirth – true enough, but given that Nixon’s “Southern strategy” was win that racist demographic for the Republicans, the criticism does seem a little thin).  But since everyone’s an anti-racist now…

And that’s it.

Under this entire discussion, racism and gun violence, are discussed as simply individual acts, as bad decisions that bad people make. The notion that these things are built into the structure of society is outside of the bounds of polite conversation; the territory of the crazy. And yet, by viewing the fraying social fabric of U.S. society and beyond as simply the result of bad choices rather than a fundamental problem with social organization, the problem will only continue and worsen.

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Sir Christopher Lee R.I.P.

June 14, 2015 at 5:38 pm (Uncategorized)

I must have been in my early teens, so it must have been in the late 1970s. I was looking for something to watch on TV (we had three channels, so it didn’t take long to run thorough the options). I stopped at a movie. Obviously a horror film. Four travellers stop at a mysterious castle. One is lured in to a crypt and murdered; his body is hoisted above a tomb, and as his blood drips down, smoke pours out and a hand emerges. Dracula reborn. The film was Dracula: Prince of Darkness starring Christopher Lee.

I quickly discovered that the station, might have been BBC 1, but it might have been ITV, was showing the old Hammer horror films on Friday night. I saw the Gorgon, Plague of the Zombies, the Reptile, and pretty much all of the Dracula films starring Lee.  And of course it was Lee’s Dracula that drew. There was just something about him. In Prince of Darkness he has no lines I remember. But like Lugosi before him. Lee commanded by his very presence.

Lee appeared in many other classics: The assassin Scaramanga in the Man with the Golden Gun, the treacherous Saruman in Lord of the Rings, and the equally treacherous Count Dooku in Star Wars, but the film you really need to see is The Wicker Man in which Lee plays the leader of a pagan community on a remote Scottish island, Lord Summerisle.

His death last week at the age of 93 marks the end of an era of British acting, and for me a link with a part of my youth.

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People Ain’t No Good (part 1)

June 10, 2015 at 3:09 pm (Uncategorized)

With apologies to Nick Cave and with some fear that if I keep doing this page, it will never end.

There was a fatal shooting at a barber shop in Scarborough in the east end of Toronto last week. A friend of mine knew both people involved, so I wanted to read up on the details. I came across the Toronto Sun web page on the story, and I foolishly decided to read the comments section. Argh. Probably the most racist comments I’ve seen, erm, since the last time I read the comments section in the Sun.

Is it the Sun’s readers or just this stuff is bubbling beneath the surface all the time and the relative anonymity of the net lets it loose? Neither answer is particularly palatable.

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Montreal Anarchist Bookfair 2015 – A Very Brief Report

June 7, 2015 at 10:15 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s hard to believe that this year was the 16th annual Montreal Anarchist Bookfair. I’ve been to every one of them as a tabler, first as Red & Black Notes and then as Notes from Underground.

If you’ve never been, it’s quite an event. First the sheer numbers that come through. This year seemed busier, but that might have been because tabling was only on the Saturday. The bookfair had the usual interesting selection of workshops on anarchist ABCs and specialized talks on things like pirate radio (wanted to go to that one)

At one point half a dozen masked women came to the bookfair essentially to denounce the organizers in English and French for their refusal to exclude certain members of the community over issues around sexual assault.
I should mention too, that my friends in the Internationalist Workers Group were denied a table this year because they are in favour of a “party,” even though they don’t quite mean what is traditionally meant by that term. Maybe they ought to stop using it. But I digress.

Don’t forget: The Toronto bookfair is in July.

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A Brief Report TCAF 2015

May 31, 2015 at 11:53 pm (Uncategorized)

Oops – Wrote this and forgot to post earlier.

The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) has been around since 2003. Around the second week of May, TCAF takes over the main floor of the Toronto Reference library (just north of Yonge and Bloor) for a weekend of tables, workshops and signing featuring some of the best in the world, and more than a few Canadian creators. Best of all, the entire weekend is free. If you missed out this year, mark May 14 and 15, 2016 on your calendars now!

TCAF’s raison d’être is that comics are not a genre but a legitimate form which encompasses a number of genres. Comics are not something to interest young readers before they move not to serious “literature” or stop reading altogether, a type of storytelling which dates thousands of years (The Bayeux Tapestry anyone?).  While bigger superhero-themed conventions like Fan Expo have been around since the early 1990s, TCAS has consciously taken a different path. While super-heroes are not forbidden, TCAF has focused on alternative and independent comics rather than the space occupied by Marvel, DC and Dark Horse. For example, Montreal’s  Drawn and Quarterly, which has published works by Chester Brown, Seth, Lynda Barry, and Adrian Tomine to name a few, is celebrating its quarter century this year and was a special focus at the festival. 

For the last four years, TCAF has also sponsored a Librarians and Educators Day, the day before the festival presenting workshops and discussion on the use of the medium in our libraries and in our classrooms. This is the second time I’ve been, and it’s recommended for anyone who is interested in literary issues, story telling, education etc.

The day began with a keynote address by Scott McCleod author of Understanding Comics (a bit like John Berger’s Ways of Seeing but for comics and without the Marxism). McCleod’s talk dealt with the evolution of comics and our perceptions of them.  There’s also a fairly interesting TED Talk by McCleod which touches on some of the same issues – watch it here.

Workshops are always tricky. Usually at a conference, workshops fall into two categories – the one where you instantly know which one you want to attend. or the ones where you feel you’re making the lesser evil choice. TCAF isn’t like that- I wanted to attend every workshop. Here’s what I did attend:

1.     Comics: A Pathway to Learning.

U.S artist Jerzy Drozd led a workshop on how to use art in lessons to spark creativity. Each of us in the workshop created a mini-comic (mine is available upon request, but you’ll be disappointed!) I also received a package of instructional ideas and comments on art, but don’t worry. My ambitions don’t lie in that area.

 2.     D.I.Y. Comic-Con.

Or…how to have your own comic-con event: getting speakers, free stuff, activities etc. It seems the key to success is a button maker. We do have a button maker don’t we? The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has organized a list of creators who are willing to come to schools to give talks. Likewise Diamond Distribution will apparently send boxes of free comics for Free Comic Book Day. They just have to be asked! I should note here, I really wanted to go to the workshop on manga for girls, but those are the choices we make. 

 3.     Big Comics Q & A – Libraries

A workshop on what works and what doesn’t in public and school libraries: What to stock, what to weed, how to deal with patrons, parents and those who think people should be reading “real” books (when is it the right time to be getting your 7 year old to read Proust?).

4.     New releases

If you have young children, you will want to buy the soon-to-be-released book by Canadian artist Kate Beaton, “The Princess and the Pony.” I’m not a big manga fan, but I’m told Monster by  Naoki Urasawa, and Requiem of the Rose King (a rewrite of Richard III) by Aya Kanno are top-notch stuff.

I bought Jillian Tamaki’s Super Mutant Magic Academybut spent my time queuing up like a fan boy to get things signed by the likes of Chester Brown, Adrian Tomai, and Aya Kano.

The value of this sort of thing can be seen if you follow the link below


You might have to magnify the strip (I just clicked on it), but it’s worth it. BTW, the strip was created by a young woman from Norway when she was 17.

Next year, OK? Next year.

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Music Notes May 2015 – Literary Edition

May 31, 2015 at 1:25 pm (Uncategorized)

Ooh, time to listen with your eyes now.

Kim Gordon – Girl in a Band

Very fond of Sonic Youth, so there was really no doubt I would read Kim Gordon’s autobiography. She’s had a pretty interesting life before, after and during Sonic Youth. There’s plenty of gossip and cool connections in the book (I suppose if you travel in certain circles, you meet people in certain circles). Still, I have to confess a little disappointment as the writing is a little flat. A matter-of-fact style, unlike say the earlier collection of work Is It is My Body. She really doesn’t like Courtney Love though. Thurston Moore understandable comes in for a few shots too.

John Lydon – Anger is an Energy

Volume two of Lydon’s memoirs, which cover the same ground as Rotten, but take the story through the PIL years to the present day. Like the Kim Gordon book, there was almost no chance I wouldn’t read this, and like that, it’s both fascinating and disappointing. Fascinating for the wealth of details about people and personalities we all know, but sometimes Lydon’s words get the better of him, and you lose sympathy for his perspective. Something we’ll all guilty of I suppose. An essential read.

3. Dave Wise – The End of Music

A hard-to-find piece written in 1978 about punk rock and ultra-leftism. Plenty to argue about for sure. For a long time an incomplete version circulated in the AK Press collection What is Situationism? This is a slightly different version (it’s billed as the “original” on the site.). Provocative, fascinating stuff.  And there’s plenty of other good stuff on the Revolt Against Plenty site.

4. Chris Stein – Negative: me, Blondie and the Advent of Punk

Sure, sure, I own those early Blondie records, and listening to them again, they hold up pretty well.  This is a pretty coffee table book of photographs Stein took in the history of Blondie (there’s a lot of Debbie Harry), but like some of the others mentioned today, there are lots of shots of other cool people too. A fun way to spend a couple of hours.

5. Dave Laing  – One Chord Wonders

Originally published in 1985, One Chord Wonders is available again through PM Press and features an introduction by TV Smith from whose band, the Adverts, the book takes its title. Great attempt to look at the meaning behind punk placing it in the context of broader subcultures.

6. Andrew Bolton – Punk: From Chaos to Couture

Despite the fairly interesting pieces by John Lydon, Richard Hell and Jon Savage, this picture book which traces how punk inspired designer fashions is depressing. Watch in glorious photos how a rebellion was turned into a commodity.

7. Randal Doane – Stealing All Transmissions

Just got this and haven’t had a chance to read it, but it sure as hell looks interesting: A secret history of the Clash. How could I resist?

8. John Cooper Clarke – Snap Crackle and Bop

Yes, the one with “Evidently Chicken Town ” and “Beasley Street.” But basically I wanted to mention that the ‘Bard of Salford’ is playing a show at the Garrison in Toronto in September. Already got my ticket. Very excited about this one.

9. Leon Rosselson – The World Turned Upside Down

Fantastic. This collection, which traces Rosselson’s work from the sixties to present day, is a four-CD package with an 80 page book of explanations behind each song. Lovely personal political folk music.

10. BB King

Not a literary note really, but let’s pause to mourn the loss of BB King who died May 14. No words will adequately sum up his contribution. The best thing to do is just to listen to his work.

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