Goodbye 2009

December 31, 2009 at 2:32 pm (Uncategorized)

The annual round-up of things that made life bearable this year.  (See also the monthly music notes)

1. New York

Making the list for the second year in a row. I made my annual trip to New York in November, but I’ve already blogged that one (read about it here). I’ll just say that New York always feels like an old friend, but one who still has so many secrets. Familiar, but intriguing enough to keep you interested.

2. Orhan Pamuk – Snow

Of course I knew about Pamuk, but I had never read any of his works before Snow.  A chance mention of this book by a friend led me to it. It’s the beautifully written story of KA, a poet who returns to his home town to Turkey after years of political exile in Germany. When he left it was leftist movements that threatened the state; now it’s  the Islamist movement. Under the cover of a an immense snowstorm, Ka confronts his own past, the new reality,  and rediscovers his own poetic talents. A massive accomplishment; a massive talent.  

3. Mutant Enemy 

I’m going to write something about Dollhouse at the conclusion of the show in January. However, I’ll just add here that the talents of Mr. Whedon and his collaborators continue to sustain my belief that TV is worth watching. While Dollhouse didn’t grab me at first, it became on of those shows you look forward to. I’m not sure if it will age as well as Buffy, but I truly came to love the characters. Every once in a while, I choose to re watch a season of Buffy or Angel. This holiday, I tore through Season IV. Now I know that’s not a favourite for many. The move to college, the loss of Angel and then Oz and the introduction of Riley were not the most popular (and I never really took to Tara), but Hush, Something Blue, Superstar and Restless were brilliant. And boy, I never noticed all the clues Dawn was coming before. 

The Dr. Horrible DVD and Dr. Horrible one-shot comic also filled a void.

But please Joss, not Fox next time. It breaks our hearts, it really does.

4. The Velvet Underground

The cover of last month’s Uncut features the Velvets, and has quite a fine CD with artists inspired by the band: the Black Angels, the Feelies, Hush Arbors, Loop and many others.

After I read the article, I decided to plough though the Peel Slowly and See box set. It’s not the place to begin listening to the Velvets (especially the  first CD of demos), but it really allows you to see just how special they were, and how much they changed over their four album existence (no, I don’t count Squeeze). So many bands and genres remain indebted to this band, and yet so few know. Which leads logically to… 

5. Dean Wareham et al

The title is very unfair since it ignores Wareham’s collaborators over the years in Galaxie 500, Luna and with Britta Phillips.  Yet I’ve spent a great deal of the year with his work. Beginning with his autobiography Black Postcards to Galaxie’s Peel Sessions, through Luna’s Penthouse, and then Dean &  Britta’s Back Numbers, the words have been quieter, slower.

You can also check out A Heartful of Wishes, a site dedicated to Galaxie 500 and Luna.

6. Planetary

Warren Ellis and John Cassidy’s story of the “Archeologists of the Impossible.” (How could you not love that?) Janika Wagner, the Drummer and Elijah Snow make up the team which is dedicated to …well, it’s a bit of a mystery innit? Suffice to say, (and this doesn’t suffice), if the characters of Fringe and the X-Files had super powers, it might be a bit like this. The series started in the 1998, but was suspended a few years later. Restarted in October. If you like conspiracy stuff, and even if you don’t, it’s well worth it. Pretty addictive. It’ll also lead you into Ellis’ Storm Watch and The Authority.

PS. I just came across Ellis’ novel Crookedly Little Vein, but no thoughts on that yet.

7. Curry and Roti

My favourite local restaurant. You like Caribbean food? Then this is for you. A few kilometres from me is Curry and Roti. I don’t know if it’s the best roti place in the city, but it’s very good indeed. Whenever I’m down, this is comfort food for the soul.

8. Amusement parks

Never went to them as a kid. Didn’t like roller-coasters. Much preferred arcades. This year, I’ve been to Disney World, Sea World and Canada’s Wonderland. And more surprisingly, I had a good time at all of them. Perhaps, it was my kids that made the difference. You think? After we got off the first ride at Disney World, my five-year old son turned to me and said, “Dad, this is the best day of my life.” It’s hard to forget something like that.

9. Star Trek 

I watched two Star Trek movies this year: Nemesis, the swan song for the Next Generation series and the death of Data; and the JJ Arbrams reboot. I was a Trek fan as a kid, and Abrams’ story neatly fits into that mold: Heroic, dumb fun. (With plenty of nods to the old series).  

10. Atonement

I didn’t read the novel, but the movie haunted me. I know it came out in 2007, but I didn’t see it till this year. the story of how a small lie can have far-reaching consequences, and how a person makes amends.Oustanding performances from Kira Knightly and , as well as Vanessa Redgrave, and an amazing un-Hollywood ending. I talked about this to anyone who would listen for months afterwards.

11. Pork pie Hat

I’m beginning to collect hats – not baseball caps. They aren’t hats. A hat has a brim  not a peak. So, after hemming and hawing over the price, I finally bought  a pork pie hat from Toronto hat seller Big it Up a few weeks ago.  I know I’m too old to be cool now, but I love this hat. I’ve had positive comments every time I’ve worn it.  If you’ve no idea, click here.

12. New Music

I started taking music seriously when I was about 13. It was the summer of 1977. I was a little too young for punk, but I tried to make up for lost ground. Admittedly, my tastes were a little on the narrow side at first, but I learnt. (I still remember the expression on my dad’s face when I brought home a Hank Williams album).  Yet, as we settle into middle age, there a bit of a tendency to revert to the music of our youth. How else to explain Classic rock radio  – an extremely narrow slice of artists from the 1960s and 70s. I often listen to the Toronto classic rock station to see if I can hear something new – it’s very rare. So, I’m pleased to finds myself in the position of still buying new records by new artists like The XX, the Vivian Girls, Hush Arbors, Best Coast, Box Elders and many more some of whom don’t even have Wikipedia pages yet!).  There’s just something magical about discovering a new artist, and remembering what attracted you to music in the first place. I’m reading Nick Hornby’s new novel Juliet, Naked at the moment. I’m certainly not a Tucker Crowe fan, but I do understand.

Vive la rock!

13. Live Music

Hey, wasn’t live music supposed to die out? Wasn’t digital sound and the internet supposed to remove al; that? No, didn’t think so. I got out of the habit for a while, but this year, I went and saw vital live music again. Primal Scream, The Kills, the Horrors, Jay Reatard, the Decemberists, the Heartless Bastards, and Roky Erickson.

There’s something magical about being in a club surrounded by sound. It’s noisy, it’s sweaty, and its real. The Cribs are playing the Phoenix on January 15th.

14. Bill Willingham

I first saw Billingham’s stuff when he wrote Ironwood, an, ahem, erotic sword and sorcery comic published in the 1990s. Then came Fables, Jack of Fables , and now a novel Peter and Max (this one arrived last week for me, but I haven’t gotten to it yet). Willingham is also writing the Angel comic for IDW now. Who would have thought it?

15. The City Workers Strike in Toronto

City workers were off the job in Toronto this summer. That meant no garbage pickup. A massive inconvenience. The main issue in the strike was over bankable sick days. The city wanted to buy these out. After six weeks, the union gave up these sick days for new workers, and made a deal to allow the city to buy them out from existing workers.  It was a classic union controlled strike, yet there was something exciting about picket lines in the city again. True, there were other actions in other places (Chicago Doors and Windows springs to mind), but  this was here, in Toronto. It’s with struggle that possibilities begin.

16 Edwards Gardens

There’s a park near my home. It has a little stream running through it. There are ducks and geese. It’s quiet. It’s a retreat. A cup of coffee, and it’s perfect.

17. Marmite

You know it, you may not love it. I’m not sure if anyone who wasn’t raised on it can appreciate it. While North American children grew up on PB&J sandwiches, for me it was cheese and marmite. Or on toast. Or as a hot drink alternative to Bovril. You can buy t-shirts at the fan site.   


18. Max the cat

We’ve almost adopted a local cat.  I say almost because my wife has an allergy to cats so we can’t officially adopt him, but unofficially… Max belongs to a neighbour, and one day I made the mistake of giving him a saucer of milk. Now he’s around almost every day for milk or TLC. I don’t think he cares which. It brightens my day though.

19. Body Worlds

Four years ago, the Body Worlds exhibit was at the Ontario Science Centre. Week after week, I told myself, I’ll go. Never did. When it came back, I was determined not to miss it. Went this week. It’s stunning. I can think of few things which can made me smile, cry, and have my mouth hang open in just the sheer complexity of the human body.  I’m an organ donor, but I don’t think I can quite muster the strength to donate my whole body; however, I’m sure impressed many people did. If it comes to your town, go see it.

20. Plato

To be sure, I’m not a big fan of Plato. I read The Republic and some of the dialogues when I was in school, but still. However, on one of the walls at the Body Worlds exhibit, there was this lovely quotation, which is a pretty good way to end the year.

Those who wish to sing, always find a song.


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