Utah Phillips

May 25, 2008 at 2:42 pm (Uncategorized)


Sad to report that folk-singer and IWW member Utah Phillips passed away on May 23.


I never saw him perform, but have several of his recordings. Well worth a listen. “We Have Fed you for a Thousand Years” is a live recording of popular labour songs and worth getting.


Permalink Leave a Comment

A brief note on the Montreal Anarchist Bookfair

May 21, 2008 at 9:53 pm (Uncategorized)

So as with every Victoria Day weekend for the past nine years, I drove up to Montreal for the anarchist bookfair. Montreal is a six hour drive from Toronto, which makes for a pretty busy weekend. Drive up Friday night, and stay up late into the night talking politics with friends. Saturday, seven hours at the bookfair, then another six hour drive back to Toronto. A long weekend.  
Initially, it seemed as if I would not be attending the Montreal anarchist bookfair. A mix-up (my fault) meant that I didn’t have a table, but a quick email appeal reversed that. (The good will among anarchists toward the Marxist “ultra-left” continues)
The Montreal anarchist bookfair is now in 9th year (and I’ve been to all of them). Upwards of 1,200 people come through each year. This year, no Red & Black Notes to sell, but some fresh Internationalist Perspectives, Aufheben, pamphlets by the Insane Dialectical Posse (sorry comrades – I love the pamplhets, but the name doesn’t do it for me), Radical Anthropology and a few other things.  
 It seemed quieter than previous years. This may have been that I was in a different position (to the side, not in the mob). My sales were down a little ($140 this year,over $200 last year – however, that was a record), but I had many interesting conversations. It seemed also that there was a turnover of people. I saw fewer “fixtures”, but a lot of younger newer people. 
Apparently John Zerzan was there this year, and the subject of some controversy as the following anti-politics thread shows.   
Next month, there is an anarchist bookfair in Hamilton, Ontario (about an hour from Toronto). This is the first one there, so lots of luck with that.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Music Notes -May 08

May 18, 2008 at 7:52 pm (Uncategorized)

A top ten list of good things.
10.     Koma Rozerin– Naze Naze / Gule Gule  Now when was the last time you watched a video of Kurdish folk-electronica? This, I think, is pretty cool. Thanks to Rough In Here, Rougher Out There for pointing this out.  (A blog you should definitely look at)
9.   I often think that re-issues are a con: A way of parting the hard core fan from their pennies, by the lure of a few recently unearthed tracks. The most vulgar practitioner probably being Elvis Costello, a man whose work I do admire, but honestly, how many times are you going to re-release My Aim is True ? (In addition, there’s usually a reason those “bonus” were left off in the first place).
On the other hand, there are a few re-issues, it’s worth upgrading to. Nick Lowe’s first album Jesus of Coolhas just been re-issued by Yep Roc. A great “new wave” record, whatever that means. It’s the original album, lots of bonus tracks (including Nick’s tribute to the Bay City Rollers an early version of “Cruel to be Kind” and a stunning version of Martha Sharp’s “Born A Woman”), and notes by Will Birch of the Records. Even better, the CD comes with a link to the Yep Roc site where you can download two additional bonus tracks, including Nick’s version of Dr. Feelgood’s “Keep it out of sight.”
8.    Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Talk about the Blues. A great video for a great song with Wynnona Ryder as Spencer, John C Reilly as  Russell Simins, and Giovanni Ribisi as Judah Bauer. 
7.  His record label describes him as a blues genius. That may be hyperbola, but not much. Check out Pete Molinari’s my space page. http://www.myspace.com/petemolinari. His new album “A Virtual Landscape” is very good. Pete’s label, Damaged Goods, was giving about free MP3 for joining the mailing list. Well worth it.
6.     The Kills new record Midnight Boom. Grimy garage rock.
5.   I know some people hate rock lists, but I like ’em.  http://www.rocklistmusic.co.uk/steveparker/1001albums.htm
4.    More cowbell! More cowbell! Will Farrell’s famous take on “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” http://youtube.com/watch?v=apMR_q3RHIAIf you’re so inclined you might check out the demo version on the re-issue of Agents of Fortune.  
3.    I don’t always buy Mojo; only when the free CD is one I like, but the current issue has a ska/punk mix, and a   feature  article  on the  Specials.    
2.    Spaceman 3. Note to self. Buy “A Perfect Prescription.”  
1.     Can “Tago Mago.” I still worry about the term “Krautrock,” but this record is really marvellous. Named after a mystical magical mythical island, and much beloved by various punks, it sounds nothing like punk. The 18 minute “halleluwah’  sounds rather like Happy Mondays. Go figure.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Public appearances…

May 8, 2008 at 10:23 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ll be distributing books, magazines and pamphlets at the Montreal, Quebec  anarchist bookfair on May 17, and at the Hamilton, Ontario  anarchist bookfair on June 14.

Come and say hi.




Permalink Leave a Comment

My Youth as a Commodity…

May 8, 2008 at 10:12 pm (Uncategorized)

Projects elsewhere have meant I’ve had less time to do the blog than I thought. Anyway, here’s something from last year occasioned by hearing a Buzzcocks’ song in a Nissan ad.

The Commodification of Everyday Life

It could have been so many other bands, but it was the Buzzcocks. As the announcer extolled the virtues of the new Nissan, there, unmistakably, was the Buzzcocks’ song “So Why Can’t I Touch It?” (I bought in 1979 as the B-side to the band’s eighth   single “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” so it should be worth a few bob now) Neither song is, in my opinion, one of their greatest moments, so it seemed a little strange that this song by a band that never really made any impact in North America should be leased by Nissan and used in the North American market.

Was Pete Shelley, a sell-out for leasing his son to Nissan? If so, he’d certainly taken his time since the song was over a quarter of a century old. It all depends upon what you mean by sell out. Pete Shelley was one of the original punks in Manchesterin 1976. Along with Howard Devoto, he helped to organize the first Sex Pistols show in the city, and later, also with Devoto formed the Buzzcocks. The band’s first record, the EP Spiral Scratch, was self-released on the band’s New Hormones label, and helped pioneer the D.I.Y. ethos of punk: Year Zero! No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones in 1977! Yet, in 1977, they signed to big capitalist record company: Apropos Mark P, did punk die the day the Buzzcocks signed to United Artists?   Is leasing a song for use by a car company a violation of art? Can music ever be pure?


The list of musicians who have sold their songs to corporations to promote worthless product is endless.  Should we then agree with 10CC when they sang, “Art for art’s sake; money for God’s sake”? Or Krusty the Clown who, when asked about his endorsements for crappy products cried, “They drove a dump truck full of money up to my house. I’m not made of stone!” It’s not called the music business for nothing, I suppose.  

But there’s more to it than the lure of cash. The pressure to sell out, or simply sell is enormous. It’s one of the many things which make capitalism such an insidious, but such a resilient and durable system. The market existed long before capitalism, but only under capitalism did the market, and the commodity form reach such a degree of refinement (if indeed, that’s the right world). 


A commodity, simply put, is product which is created for external sale. If I buy mushrooms, cheese and eggs and make an omelette for my kids, that labour is unalienated. However, if I make the same meal in a restaurant, the product is a commodity (something created for sale not for consumption by the maker). Hell, under capitalism, I don’t even own the omelette – that belongs to the owner of the restaurant who pays me for my labour power; itself a commodity: Small wonder that Marx’s began his Capital with the observation that capitalism presents itself as a vast accumulation of commodities.

But capitalism is more than just a society which produces commodities. A unique feature of the system, unlike say feudalism, is that capitalism is an aggressively expansive system – it seeks to recreate itself in other societies, and deepen its reach in this one. Thus, it continually seeks to expand into new markets and into new areas of life once untouched by the market. Where once untouched social spaces existed, now capital expands. Everything becomes a commodity, again and again. Nothing is sacred.

While other societies sought to suppress radical art and ideas (think of the absolutism societies throughout history), capitalism, is perfectly content with youthful rebellion. Capitalism is supremely confident of its ability to recuperate that rebellion; turn it into a product, into a commodity (A few years ago, a friend sent me a bottle of soda pop produced in B.C called Revolution cola, adorned with Che’s face).    

Capital will continue to sell and convert the radical into the safe consumable item. While no one has used the Sex Pistols in commercials yet, Nirvana is on the verge of being sanitized. It’s only a matter of time. Within capital, lies commodification. Only from without can the system be overthrown and the possibility of art for art’s sake appear.


May 17, 2007


Permalink Leave a Comment