Goodbye 2008

December 31, 2008 at 11:20 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve always loved “best of…” lists. Agree, disagree, compare, discuss. So, in no particular order, 20 things which made the year fun for me. . (And yesterday, it would have been a different list – of course all those music and comic notes ought to figure here too)

1. Belgium.

It was my first time in Europe in almost ten years, and it’s always a thrill. In North America, so much seems so, well, new. Of course, it’s not, but compared to Europe. I stayed in Brussels most of the tine, but had day trips to Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. The country is full of incredible scenery. On the day I went to Bruges, it poured with rain lending a sort of majestic Gothic splendor to the place. (If you haven’t seen In Bruges, it’s worth renting). I actually preferred Ghent, which in addition to great churches and architecture had a more lived in feel. Did I mention the beer? Strangest experience was a visit to Doel.Most of the people in the town moved out after the port of Antwerp planned an expansion. The expansion never came, so the town is now populated by some of the original residents who refused to leave, and an increasing number of squatters. I walked around with a friend, but it had a real zombie town vibe. Deserted. Very weird.

2. Darlene Love – So Much Love 

Quick, name someone else who worked with Duane Eddy, Phil Spector, Dick Dale, Little Stephen, Gene Pitney and… well you get the picture. Darlene Love is one of those amazing talents who never really got all the acclaim she deserved. This collection does something to redress the balance. 24 songs (including 3 previously unreleased tracks), and a great booklet. (Reminds me, one of the things I dislike about MP3s is the lack of extra information).

3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Dig Lazarus Dig! 

And Nick Cave is one of those odd talents. He seems to get better as he gets older. Most bands/singers peak and then coast, but Cave keeps raising the bar. This album doesn’t quite beat Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus, but it comes close.

4. Kiran Desai – The Inheritence of Loss

A few people who read this at my wife’s book club found this difficult. True, it’s a fragmented story, past and present, but it’s beautifully told, with all to human characters, all with an interwoven story nursing their personal tragedies and slights.

5. The Dark Knight

I see the blacklash has started in some of the cooler circles. Dark Knightis a pretty good thrill ride for the first two thirds. The final section drags a little.  That and the fact that the plot seems largely recycled from Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. But, hey, Heath Ledger is really, really creepy.  No wonder Jack Nicholson was upset. He’s being compared to Caesar Romero now.

6. Torchwood

The Dr. Who spin-off: Daleks, Cybermen, monstrous villains, family reunions. James Marsters. Didn’t you cry at the end of the second season? apparently Captain Jack Harkness is the most popular bi-sexual lead character on television.

7. The Kills – Midnight Boom

I don’t remember how many years it’s been since the last Kills record, but this one is a lot more fun. Still grimly, still garagey, but  a lot more fun. It occupied my CD player almost exclusively for a few weeks this year.

8. New York 

Ooh, if I could  afford it, if I could get a good job, if I could find a nice apartment, i ‘d like to live in New York. There in February, and although it poured with rain one day, it was still a great trip.

9. TUK shoes.

I bought a pair of faux-creepers from this UK company earlier this year. I remember back in 1977, The Sunran an expose on "punk rock." The second part featured the Clash, and there was Joe Strummer wearing a pair of these really cool shoes. Funny how, things come back in style.  (Now when I go to New York later this year, it’ll have to be for a pair of OPOP sneakers)

10. Neil Gaiman 

He keeps turning out amazing books.  The first story I read by Gaiman was a Hellblazer. Then of course Sandman. Simply an incredibly talented storyteller. I’m not crazy about the Dangerous Omens novel, but it was worth standing in line to meet Gaiman and get it signed. In 2003, I bought his children’s story The Wolves in the Walls. My daughter loved, and still loves it. Now my son loves it too. Bought The Dangerous Alphabet a few days ago. And now, The Graveyard Book has arrived. Oh happy day.

11. Samosa King.

How many times do you read, [this town’s] best coffee, pizza., somasa etc?; Hard to know if Samosa King really has the best samosa in Toronto, but I imagine they are pretty high on the list. And it’s 5 for a $1! Midland and Finch in Scarborough. (I think my mother in law makes the best chutney though)

12. Hiro Kunzru – My Revolutions

A flashback heavy narrative of a former radical, and the path that led to where he was. Powerful in that it doesn’t dismiss radicalism as a product of foolish youth, but seeks to explain it in the context of  larger events. Still, as the American Trotskyist James Cannon remarked, if you lock people in a room long enough, they will talk themselves into anything.  

13. Ricky Gervais

Why isn’t this man a bigger star? The Office was brilliant. Likewise Extras.(for me, the funniest thing about extras was the willingness of celebrities to appear in extremely unflattering ways:  Kate Winslett’s strategy for winning an Oscar, or Patrick Stewart’s movie for example) I’ll forgive A Night at the Museum.  Ghost Town was sweet and funny (although the extra entitled “some People Can Do it” is hysterical). Subscribe to his pod cast.

14. I like to Watch

Hosted by Salon, Heather Havrilevsky’s column is one of the best on TV writing. It makes me want to watch some of the shows, I’ve never seen, but that she recommend.

15. The Sunday New York Times

I used to live downtown (though not in New York). I used to go out to see bands once a week. I used to see movies once a week. Times change. It’s still nice to read the paper Sunday morning and feel lie you’re part of something larger. Hey, my wife and I finished the crossword last week!

16. Soundscapes

Some people liken it to the record shop in High Fidelity. Others complain the staff are stuck-up and unfriendly. But I’ve never had any problems with the staff at 572 College. A great record shop for those people who love music.

17. Fables

Bill Willingham’s what- if- the -children’s -stories- we -read- were- actually- real comic book has now published 75 issues. Published by Vertigo, all but the most recent are available as trade paperbacks, so it’s easy to catch up.  

18. The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson’s latest film. Funny, sad; comic, tragic. Ultimately, uplifting. A great story, a great soundtrack (Peter Sarstedt’s “Where do you go to my lovely”), and hey wasn’t Natalie Portman at the beginning?  Well well.

19. Minty the hamster. My daughter’s pet. Nuff said.

20. The possibility of  a better future. On this, the last day of 2008, let’s remember Durutti’s words:

  • It is we the workers who built these palaces and cities here in Spain and in America and everywhere. We, the workers, can build others to take their place. And better ones! We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing this minute.
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    Robert Fisk

    December 31, 2008 at 1:41 pm (Uncategorized)

    A friend forwarded this link to me. Bookmark where ever Fisk publishes. Unlike much of what is written elsewhere, this is an astonishingly sensible take on the latest round in the middle east tragedy.

    Leaders Lie, Civilians Die and the Lessons of History are Ignored

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    The Creative Impulse: Notes on blogging

    December 31, 2008 at 1:35 pm (Uncategorized)

    “There’s only one thing worse than not being talked about…” so said Oscar Wilde. A friend of mine who wrote a short piece for the Toronto Globe and Mail about her experience of being a grandmother might disagree. (The story was picked up and became the subject of some rather pointed discussion on a number of boards)

    So there’s the Internet. The good thing is nothing disappears, but the bad thing is that nothing disappears. Why do we write, or paint, or make songs, or blog? Is it something creative in the human spirit or something more mundane?

    For much of human history, the creative aspect of human society has been commodified. Specialists create art. People consume it. Going to a museum can be a moving experience. I have seen pictures and listened to art which had a tremendous effect on me, moving me to joy or to tears. Yet, the consumption of art is usually a passive act. The Situationists argued that art must realized, made a part of everyday life. Art must be made by all or by none.

    Technology has allowed this in some ways. The personal computer has allowed for the easy physical creation of books, magazines and so on. The Internet has allowed for the distribution.

    Yet, there is so much out there. How can we. distinguish, how can we choose.  Becoming a star in whatever artistic media you choose is less a matter of talent than marketing. Can anyone deny there are many much more deserving artists than say, Avril Lavigne’s brand of faux-punk rebellion (already shilling for corporations).

    WordPress, the company which hosts this blog, lists over 5 million blogs, and I make no pretense to literary greatness. Red & Black Notes, my former project,  had a print run of a couple of hundred issues, and I never sold out an issue. Certain articles did get picked up and were read by larger numbers, but that was it.   – the Seattle statement I signed with the editors of Collective Action Notes and The Bad Days Will End generated, and still generates feedback. This blog has received a few hundred hits over its eight month existence. Why read this one, how to learn about it? My interests in ultra-left politics, comic books, and obscure music doesn’t make for the most main stream form. So maybe we write for ourselves, with te hope that we can connect in a world which is increasingly disconnected.

    So lastly, I’d like to thank alphainventions. A month or so back, I started getting hits referred from this site. Curious, I went to the site. It’s basically a ticker-tape blog site. When people update their blogs, they can go to alphainvensions and notify people. Their blog is featured, briefly, and people can click on your blog to read what you’ve written. Naturally, your blog is quickly bumped out of the reading cycle ), but there you go.

    Happy New Year.

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    Greece 2008

    December 27, 2008 at 11:29 pm (Uncategorized)

     Since the beginning of December, a number of Greek cities have been the scene of violent demonstrations in which young people – largely students – have confronted the forces of state order. While the police killing of a young demonstrator is what unleashed the confrontations of the past month, they did not come out of a clear blue sky. They are rather part and parcel of a social conflict within the educational sector, as well as manifestations of discontent that have spread to other sectors of the work world.

    This is directly linked to the economic transformations that Greece has experienced since the 1970’s, which have necessitated the development of a skilled and more diversified labor force, entailing the development of compulsory education and the opening of higher education to large numbers of youth. Access to such a diploma has become, for the young, the ticket to the possibility of a professional job, and thereby to a higher standard of living. The opening up of schools and universities brought with it ever higher costs to be borne by students and their families, as well as more and more rigid selection criteria for admission. The outcome has been typical for a mass education system, with the reduction of teachers to the condition of wage-workers and a constant degradation of working conditions, even as a growing number of students are excluded – all following a pattern characteristic of other industrialized countries. To that must be added the pressure of the internal contradictions of the capitalist system, in which education no longer provides the illusion of access to a better life, but rather reflects the social injustice and fears for the future shared by the whole of the exploited population of the industrialized countries.

    In a real sense, this disillusion can be compared to the May ’68 movement, which marked a revolt of youth and sections of the working class against the very real effects of economic degradation and the grim situation that it produced. To come back to Greece, we can point to the student protest movements in 1991 and ’98, the occupation of the universities in 2006, and again in ’07, the six-week long teachers strike in ’06, of which this is merely a partial list.

    A factor that has strengthened the determination of the students is that many of them are at the same time engaged in wage-labor in order to pay for their studies. They are, therefore, already directly confronted with the exploitation of their labor and the reality of unemployment and dismal economic perspectives, much like the youth engaged in the anti-CPE movement in France. This latter has already – in December — led the French minister of education to withdraw the education reforms that had been passed over the protests of both teachers and high-school students. That is only one more example showing the global nature of the capitalist system, of its crisis, and of the “remedies” that the ruling class has to offer – drastic cut-backs and their corollary of exclusion.

    The Greek situation is not, therefore, what the mass media seeks to make of it: a situation particular to Greece, following an exceptional event, the killing of a youth, but rather constitutes an expression of the opposition of a proletarianized class, and especially of its youth, to the degradation of its very conditions of existence, against the perspectives of an uncertain future, against any resignation vis-à-vis the global relations of exploitation and coercion imposed by the ruling class. The popular support for these youth, as well as the social movements that have arisen of late, are just further expressions of that fundamental opposition.


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    Christmas Music

    December 26, 2008 at 7:38 pm (Uncategorized)

    A little late, but better than never. Some things which make the holiday  go better.  (In no particular order)

    1. Run Run Rudolph – Chuck Berry’s original, simply because it is the original. However, I do have a soft spot for Keith Richards cover, if only because Keith simply cannot sing, and there’s a certain charm in that.

    2. A Christmas Gift for You– AKA The Phil Spector Christmas Album. Scandalously out of print, but for most people’s money, an absolutely marvellous Christmas record. Stand out track: Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please come Home).” 

    3. Christmas Wrapping – The Waitresses. Worth including for the pun alone. Their biggest (non) hit. Clever, quirky, singalong. If you pick up the King Biscuit Boy live Waitresses CD, there’s a great version there too.

    4. The Christmas Song– The Raveonettes. The best Christmas song the Jesus and Mary Chain never recorded. Lovely, sweet, dark.

    5. The Christmas Tree’s on Fire– Holly Golightly. I love Holly, and this record is for all of us whose decorations are still up at Easter.  

    6. I Believe in Father Christmas – Greg Lake. Oh I did, believe me. This song came out when I was 8 or 9. Still makes me cry.

    7.  Fairytale of New York– The Pogues with Kirsty McColl. Now who wouldn’t want to spent the holidays with Shane MacGowan? Er, who would? Apparently the most popular Christmas record in Britain of all time.

    8. One More Drifter in the Snow – Aimee Mann. I’m a late arrival in appreciating the talents of Ms. Mann, but this holiday CD from 2006 is very fine.

    9. Merry Christmas (I don’t wanna fight)– The Ramones. It’s the Ramones. It’s a Christmas song. What more could you want.

    10. Peace on Earth / Little Drummer Boy – Bing Crosby / David Bowie. Just for the sheer cheese of it.  

    Hope yours was good.

    PS If anyone knows where I can find the Yobs version of “Silent night” or the Greedies’ “A Merry Jingle”, let me know

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    Dr. Feelgood – Down by the Jetty

    December 26, 2008 at 2:20 pm (Uncategorized)


    Down by the Jetty cover

    Canvey Island is a reclaimed island with a population of 37,000 about 40 miles east of London. It formerly boasted a sizable petrochemical plant, but which is now in part a nature reserve. It was also the home town of the “best local world in the world,” Dr. Feelgood.

    Dr. Feelgood  formed in 1971 and played fast, angry R&B. These were the days when R&BN actually meant rhythm and blues, rather than soul influenced pop music. A glance at their 1975 debut Down by the Jetty shows four men in cheap suits looking like London thugs. Behind them water and an industrial transport. Black and white.

    The Feelgoods’ first album was recorded in mono. Produced by Vic Maile the sound is sparse and gritty. Rather than studio overdubs, the album was essentially recorded live in the studio. The singer Lee Brilleaux growls out the words. Guitarist Wilko Johnson spits out choppy chords in an admitted imitation of Pirates’ guitarist Johnny Green (although Wilko’s style inspired many). Bass and drums tight.  

    There’s a clip of Roxette from the Old Grey Whistle Test from 1975. Wilko stalks the stage, menacingly. Pre-punk, yet it foreshadowed much of what  was to come.  At a famous 1975 party in New York, attended by Johnny Thunders, Talking Heads, the Ramones, Blondie and others, it was Down by ther Jetty which was played over and over.

    In 2006, EMI re-issued the album as a double CD. The first CD contains the original mono along with five bonus tracks. The second CD has a stereo version. Interesting, but it diffused the tension somewhat. There are eleven bonus tracks including seven live ones. The package is completed with a booklet with notes from Will Birch who played in the Kursaal Flyers and the Records, and wrote a great book about the pub rock scene No Sleep Till Canvey Island. A forgotten classic. A great record. Well worth the investment.

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    Merry Christmas from Athens

    December 25, 2008 at 12:03 am (Uncategorized)


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    Comic Links

    December 24, 2008 at 7:18 pm (Uncategorized)

     No, not that sort of comic. What people now call graphic novels.

    I read the superhero stuff when I was a kid (Marvel, not DC), and then my interest waned. I started to read again in the late 1980s when the so-called new breed of authors appeared. I missed the initial run of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, but caught Gaiman’s Sandman and Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer  just at the right moment.

    Now, I read a mix of things, but here are a few hits.  

     1.  Dark Horse

    The number three publisher behind Marvel and DC. For a long time Dark Horse made its living with adaptations like Aliens. Now, they publish a respectable run of their own. Hellboy, the Umbrella Academy (see below)and several titles are all required reading. Check out their on-line series Dark horse Presents.  


    A blog about comics. I don’t always agree, but it’s nice to get the perspective. Years ago, my wife went to a local comic shop to get a book signed for me, and reported she was the only woman in the store. It’s changed, but not enough.  

    3. Ed Brubaker

    The man who killed Captain America! Seriously though, if you like film noir at all, you really ought to check out the Criminal series published by Icon. Very cool.

    4. 1,000,000 Comix

    My favourite local store. Toronto really is spoilt. The Beguiling is another great store, but they really need to sort their stock. It’s very difficult to find stuff. 1,000,000 have a good stock and friend;y knowledgeable staff.

    5.  The World of Steve Ditko by Blake Bell, published by Fantagraphics Books. Yes, the people who brought you Love and Rockets, Eightball, Hate and many other great titles, have put out this lovely biography of Steve Ditko packed with cartoons. Steve Ditko? Shame on you. Ditko drew and or created many amazing titles: Spider-Man, Shade the Changing Man, the Question, Doctor Strange,  and untold numbers of stories for Strange tales and other horror titles. A marvellous biography detailing how Dikto was screwed by the comics industry (everyone is rightfully upset about the way Jack Kirby was treated, but he wasn’t he only one), and how Dikto’s adherence to Ayn Rand’s wacky philosopyundercut him too. Lots of rare and beautiful pictures from an vastly under-appreciated talent.

    6. Buffy season 8 / Angel Season 6

    My two favourite TV shows now in comic book form. Joss Whedon is writing one, and overseeing the other. Both great, both essential. I miss Joss on TV and can’t wait for Dollhouse.

    7. The Invisibles.

    Grant Morrison is terrifying. The Invisibles, reportedly the book the Matrix is stolen from, is alternately brilliant, maddeningly confusing or both at the same time.  Throwin some conspiracy theory, cultural anthropology, time-travel, creative sexuality and you don’t even come close to how good this is. All packaged as trade paperbacks by Vertigo comics. And yeah, I treasure my signed copy of Arkham Asylum.

    8. Alan Moore.

    When I was watching TV last night, we saw an ad for the film version of Will Eisner’s The Spirit. “Are there any comic that haven’t been made into movies?” asked my wife. She didn’t know about Watchmen. Like many, I feel deeply apprehensive about the upcoming movie version.  I loved, yeah loved, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Swamp Thing. V for Vendetta. Tom Strong. Top Ten, From Hell and all the rest. Brilliant as comics, but as movies. The League of Extraordinary… I can’t finish the sentence. Awful. Watchmen for many, is THE graphic novel. Read it before the film comes out.

    9. Umbrella Academy.

    I confess, I’ve never heard of My Chemical Romance. OK, I’ve heard of them, but never heard one of their songs. Gerard Way though, is a pretty good writer. Surreal like some of Morrison’s work.  (think Doom Patrol). Published by Dark Horse.

    10.  Pigeons From Hell

    A little series from Dark Horse published earlier this year. It’s an adaptation of a Robert E. Howard story. Howard is of course best known for Conan. but this is pretty creepy. Louisiana Gothic.

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    Bettie Page

    December 21, 2008 at 1:09 pm (Uncategorized)

    Pause for a moment to appreciate Ms. Page who passed away December 11 from complications after a heart attack. In today’s sexual though rarely sensual exploitation of the human body, Bettie Page’s pin-ups from 50s years ago look somewhat quaint. In a scene in Mary Harron’s bio-pic “The Notorious Betty Page,” Betty poses in the woods for a photographer. When she offers full frontal nudity, the photog stammers, he would get arrested if he published that picture.  Ah, a simpler time.

    The human body as commodity.

    Here’s wishing everyone some non-alienated, non-commodified human contact this holiday season.

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    Ultra-left Distribution

    December 21, 2008 at 1:00 pm (Uncategorized)

    Since 2000, I’ve attended and tabled at the Montreal Anarchist bookfair. Earlier this year, I had a table at a similar event in Hamilton, Ontario.

    I still distribute various ultra-left texts and magazines; many of which aren’t generally available in North America. Anyone interested in copies of Aufheben, Internationalist Perspective, Endnotes, Radical Anthropology, even Red & Black  Notes, should get in touch here. I also have lots of old pamphlets, including Dauve, Glaberman and others.

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