Music Notes August 2009

August 31, 2009 at 8:46 pm (Uncategorized)

Under the wire: Musical happenings in August…

1. Superchunk – Leaves in the Gutter EP

It’s hard to believe that it’s been eight years since the last Superchunk album, but this little EP will make the years fade away. The EP has five songs (including both electric and acoustic versions of Learned to Surf), and sounds very much like classic Superchunk, without being dated. Lovely.  On September 15, Superchunk’s label Merge release Our Noise, an account of their history.

2. Ellie Greenwich

Imagine you’re a musician or songwriter. Someone says to you, “Have you written anything I might know?” Then imagine how they’ll feel when you say, “Oh, I don’t know, have you heard Leader of the Pack, Da Doo Run Run, River Deep Mountain High, Then He Kissed Me …I co-wrote them.” 

 Ellie Greenwich passed away August 26, 2009.  

3. Absolute Beginners

Based on the novel by Colin MacInnis, Absolute Beginners is Julian Temple’s first movie. Oh sure, he made a few other films, but this is the first real movie he made rather than a documentary or fictionalized account (E.g., The Great Rock and Roll Swindle)

Say kid, what’s  that you say: you want to see a musical set against the backdrop of the 1958 Notting Hill race riots. You want to see David Bowie faking an appalling American accent. You want to see Ray Davies doing…I don’t know what the hell Ray Davies is doing. You want to see contemporary music from the Style Council and Sade inserted into a period piece. This is for you.

It looked good on paper. Not so on the screen. (OK, Tenpole Tudor’s portrayal of a violent teddy boy is kinda funny).

4. Glastonbury (2006)

Ah, much better. Another Julian Temple film, but one that allows Temple’s observant eye full reign. The Glastonbury festival actually dates to the earth 20th century, but the first rock festival was held there in 1970. Since then, the festival has taken place more or less annually with a bewildering assortment of talent.

Temple’s film captures the madness, the chaos, the spirit and above all the music. Too unpleasant for me in person, but a very watchable experience.

 5. Willy De Ville

I don’t think I heard a Bruce Springsteen song until 1978 (it was probably ‘Candy’s Room’ from Darkness at the Edge of Town). I can’t remember when I first my first Southside Johnny song, but in the summer of 1977, Mink Deville’s ‘Spanish Stroll’ was a top twenty hit in Britain.

As far as I know, it was his only chart success in the UK. But he produced an enduring body of music.  Willy DeVille died of pancreatic cancer of August 6, 2009.

6. Eye Mind– Paul Drummond.

I like listening to them, but I’m sure glad I wasn’t in the 13th Floor Elevators. A madhouse of LSD, weird philisophy and great musci. Drummond’sbiography of the band has more details than you could ever want along with intereviews with all the principals. A great read.

7 . The Story of Crass – George Berger

When I was in high school in England, people had one of two designs on the back of their jacket: Crass or Rush. (I had Crass). And although I never saw the band, I did buy all their records. A noble effort was Crass. Don’t know about this book; I got an email about it from the nice people at PM Press. Probably worth a look.

8. The Damned at the BBC

22 fabulous hits from the Damned. Recorded between 1976 and 1984, this is a great introduction to the Damned. All the hits, and even with some dodgy sound quality on one of the sessions, it’s worth every penny.

9. Dean and Britta

Finally got around to picking up the Dean and Britta record Back Numbers. for me at least, it’s not as immediate as Luna or Galaxie 500, but it’s quiet and grows on you. Nice. Very nice.

10. Oasis divided

So Noel Gallagher has left Oasis. I wasn’t sure they were still a band. Yeah, they release a greatest hits package of their early stuff once in a while, but they’re a bit like the Stones now. Their early records are outstanding, but the later ones forgettable. Since Noel was the guitarist and main songwriter, does Oasis still exist?

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Maturity…or not

August 31, 2009 at 3:10 pm (Uncategorized)



I do feel a certain connection here. I don’t rememeber if it was Trotsky or Engels who said that old age is the most unexpected of all the things that happen to a person, but I certainly expected to feel a little more…well, mature by now.

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Songs about Work

August 24, 2009 at 8:54 pm (Uncategorized)

An article appeared in the Financial Times in March by Lucy Kellaway about work songs. Apparently most songs dealing with the subject are negative. You think?

Kellaway concludes:

 The thing that unites these songs is the knee-jerk idea from people who have probably never set foot in an office that work is bad if you have it and bad if you lose it. Workers are put upon and bosses are horrid and it’s all pretty wretched.

Actually, the second part just about sums it up (although, I think I detect sarcasm).

Work is horrible; however, not having work is pretty awful too.

Work is alienating, dreary, and tiring. It takes away the joy of existence. The only thing is, sometimes, it helps to pay for it. Sometimes.

I was amused last week by a article in the Toronto Globe and Mail, explaining how large bonuses are necessary for executive and managers because it ensures they do a good job. The rest of us are expected to work for the love of work, to give 120% until we’re fired.

There are few songs about how good work is because it isn’t good.

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Bob Dylan on technology

August 24, 2009 at 1:06 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s peculiar and unnerving in a way to see so many young people walking around with cellphones and iPods in their ears and so wrapped up in their media and video games. It robs them of their self-identity. It’s a shame to see them so tuned out of real life. Of course they are free to do that, as if that’s got anything to do with freedom. The cost of liberty is high, and young people should understand that before they start spending their life with all those gadgets.

Rolling Stone May 14, 2009

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Ssangyong Workers Defeated

August 19, 2009 at 1:13 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve posted several of Loren Goldner’s reports on the Ssangyong workers struggle in Korea. Here is Goldner’s final article with an overview of the strike.

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The Horror: Penguin classics, and Guillermo Del Toro

August 18, 2009 at 7:52 pm (Uncategorized)

On a recent trip to Ottawa (scary enough), I had to time to read William Hope Hodgeson’s The House on the Borderland. It’s a crazy horror story much loved by people by H.P. Lovecraft and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. Very spooky and well worth checking out.

Penguin have thoughtfully re-issued the book with a very cool cover along with nine other titles. (You can see the covers here) I’m slowly working my way through the set.


 THE BEETLE – Richard Marsh 


 THE SPOOK HOUSE – Ambrose Bierce 

 THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND – William Hope Hodgson 


LOIS THE WITCH – Elizabeth Gaskell 



THE HAUNTED HOTEL – Wilkie Collins

And if you like horror, you might want to check out the recent collaboration between Guillermo Del Toro (Cronos, Blade 2, Hellboy, the Devil’s Backbone) and Chuck Hogan (Prince of Thieves).   The Strain is a three volume vampire story to be published in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The vampirism in the trilogy is rooted in a parasitic virus, and for the most part, the vampires are like the feral monsters of 30 Days of Night than the typical vampire fare. Twilight? Oh please.

Here’s the offical web site and here’s a video clip (yeah, it was developed as a TV series)

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The Tragedy of Advertising

August 7, 2009 at 9:11 pm (Uncategorized)

There’s a new commercial for McDonalds in heavy rotation right now. It’s absolutely brilliant. The tune is the Christmas standard Deck the Halls. But instead of the usual syrupy sounds, we get a snotty punk version with an affected English accent sneering: summer’s here, and I’m on Holiday.

Now, admittedly I didn’t rush out to McDonalds to get a $1 soft drink, but I thought using a Christmas song in July was inspired.  And then I felt sad.

What has happened here is that the mind that thought up that idea works for an advertising agency. And the purpose of an advertising agency is to inform the customer and sell the product. Filmmakers, artists, poets, writers, creative people, instead of creating art, create reasons to buy.

Imagine, if those workers were free to create art. What wonders we might have. But instead, we have comomdities.

A couple of reccommended reading on this topic are Commodity Your Dissent and The Conquest of Cool by former Baffler editor Tom Frank (the first book is a collection of essays from The Baffler).

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The Decemberists and the Heartless Bastards in Toronto

August 7, 2009 at 1:28 pm (Uncategorized)

And so on Simcoe Day, we travelled down to the Guverment to see the Decemberists and opening act, the Heartless Bastards.

Bang! Eight o’clock on the dot, the Heartless Bastards took the stage, and the first thing that was apparent was that the Guvernment had a new sound system: Very clear. 

I heard about the Heartless Bastards  through a review by Carl Wilson at his Zoilusblog, then listened to their album on their myspace page. Erika Wennerstrom’s voice is a bit of an acquired taste, but you can’t ignore it. Ultimately, it’s compelling. I raced down to my local record store to pick  up the CD.  The band played a 45 minute set and ran through about half of their latest record The Mountain. Applause built throughout their set.

The Decemberists took the stage at about 9:25, in costume no less. They then played the new album, The Hazards of Love in its entirety. On paper and on record. it’s a great idea. A concept album inspired by Colin Meloy’s discovery of an English folk singer named Anne Briggs. The story involves a mortal woman named Margaret, a shape shifter and a forest Queen. If this sounds like a crappy Tolkein knock-off, don’t worry, it’s not.  Full of truly uncool nods to prog-rock, the record is  ambitious, and quite wonderful.

But as a stage show, it suffers from the limitations of the form. To begin with, while you can enjoy the piece, if you don’t know the back story, you might be forgiven for thinking the band was playing the same parts over and over again. It’s also difficult to sustain the story-telling.

But, another but, that doesn’t mean they didn’t give it a good try. Meloy and his partners, along with Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond  certainly played their hearts out. On crowd pleaser, The Rake’s Song, the closest thing to a conventional rock song, the crowd sang along to no less than four drummers.  

After the album, the band took a break, and then performed a second fifty minute set of other songs. Meloy, reminiscent of his solo live album, spent a great deal of time interacting and joking with the audience. The band played a selection of hits, along with a couple of new songs (sounded very good), and closed with Heart’s Crazy . A couple of encore numbers and we were off into the night.

Great show.

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Kathleen Edwards in Don Mills

August 4, 2009 at 12:46 pm (Uncategorized)

There are two types of free shows: The ones where you think, ‘well, at least I didn’t pay for that,’ and the ones were you think, ‘Wow! That was definitely worth paying to see.’  Kathleen Edwards, who played a free show at the Don Mills mall on Sunday  is definitely worth paying to see.    

I have to admit that I wasn’t that familiar with Edwards’ work. I knew she was Canadian and played alt-country (or whatever that genre is called now), but apart from that I couldn’t supply much detail.

Edwards and her band played an hour long set which built momentum throughout. The early numbers were reminiscent of  Whiskeytown, and I thought this is a pleasant surprise. Then, it happened. About twenty minutes into the set, I was hooked: Was it the songs, full of hooks, or just the overall sound (acoustic and electric guitars hamonica, harmony vocals)? I don’t know, but you couldn’t help but be drawn into the performance.  I can’t remember the names of any of the songs, but Google, Wikipedia and Ms. Edwards web site stand ready to assist.

Great artist; great show.

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New Crisis Text

August 3, 2009 at 5:30 pm (Uncategorized)

There’s a new text entitled Crisis of Value  at the Internationalist Perspective site.

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