Goodbye 2010

December 31, 2010 at 3:55 pm (Uncategorized)

My annual round-up of things that made this year livable (and I’ll leave out the sentimental stuff about family – I’ve covered that throughout the year) .

1. Travel

I didn’t travel so much this year. No trip to New York, and no overseas flights. The family was supposed to go to Quebec City this week, but illness made the trip impossible. The only real trip this year was a weekend visit to London, Ontario. I’ve only been to London twice. Once for work and another time for the 1995 Days of Action protest against the provincial government. This time we hung out in the insurance capital of Ontario. It’s a town with history and a somewhat fader grandeur. Like other smaller cities (pop. 350,000), it has a much different vibe to Toronto. Some interesting little places to hang out, but also like many smaller towns a sense of defeat. Travel broadens the mind eh?

2. Mojo

I read a couple of music magazines. Exclaim, Uncut,  and the Oxford American Music issue,  but Mojo remains my favourite. I don’t buy every issue (usually if I like the CD I pick it up), but I always learn something from it. Bands I’ve never heard of, facts about people I like.  Pricey, but well worth it.

3.  Massive Attack

I’m resigned to the fact that I will probably never be as cool as Daddy G. Massive Attack have ranked high on my favourites list for a number of years, and this year I finally got to see them live. Great show, great band. Great new record. Thinking man’s dance music.

4 Inception

What’s the joke? I saw Inception this summer, or maybe I dreamed I did. I haven’t seen the Blu-ray yet, but I’m itching to do it. I feel as if there was so much I missed during the movie because there was so much going on. Great cast, great effects, crazy story. The best of the year.

5. American Vampire

My favourite new comic book. It’s the creation of Scott Snyder, although the first issues feature a back up story with Stephen King. A new original vampire story in a market saturated with vampires. If you’re in Toronto, you might check out BMV which has the hardcover edition on sale.

6 Little Big Planet /Play Station

My nephew told me that people with friends get a Wii, people with internet friends get an X-Box, but people with no friends get a Play Station. So there we are. I’m not a big gamer, but we promised my son we would buy a system. we bought a Play Station, and I’d say I’ve spent a more than a little time playing Little Big Planet. No it’s not super cool, but it’s addictive. Can’t wait for the second installment next month.

7 Warpaint.

Probably my favourite new band this year. It’s a terrible name, but the Exquisite corpse EP from last year and this year’s full length record are haunting. Dreamy post-punk electronica.  Here’s hoping for a live date soon. Still hate the name though.

8 The World Cup.

OK, England are crap. Being an England supporter is a bit like being a Maple Leaf’s fan in Toronto. You know it, but still you hope. For me, the most ridiculous part is the appeals to the Spirit of 66, the year England won. I was two years old; no-one playing for England today was born then.   Still, I shake off my general antipathy to sports for the beautiful game, and for two weeks I’m a fan.  

9 Frozen Custard

A new tasty treat creamier than ice-cream. Get it at Jedd’s Frozen Custard on Yonge north of Eglinton.

10 Thai One On

C’mon, who doesn’t like Thai food? I know this year it’s supposed to be Korean that’s hip, but I love this chain. It’s our favourite take-out place. (Honourable mention to Island Foods who make a very nice roti)

11 North African Mint Tea.

Seriously, there’s a tea we buy from a place called David’s Tea which is just amazing. David’s has some great flavours and they give out little samples. I’ll always be a coffee drinker, but this mint tea is just the right blend of flavours. lovely.

12 Denise Mina.

Earlier this year, my wife and I discovered Scottish writer Denise Mina. I  devoured the Garnethill Trilogy. James Ellroy coined the phrase Tartan Noir to refer to Ian Banks’ work, but Mina seems to be the standard-bearer. Check out here Hellblazer stories, and the new Vertigo graphic novel An Illness in the Family.

13. Winter

I don’t like Winter. Or maybe I do. When I was in my mid-teens, I moved to Canada from the UK. Now, we had snow in Britain, but it wasn’t always a sure thing. In Canada, it’s a sure thing alright. My high school years in St. Catharines, Ontario were filled with brutally cold weather. So, I have to admit while I don’t enjoy the inconvenience of winter, there’s something about that blast of frigid climes that make you glad to be alive.

14 Iggy Pop

Last year I was able to say I got to see Roky Erickson; this year it was the Ig. He played a free show in downtown Toronto with the Stooges (Scott Ashton, James Williamson and new kid Mike Watt). Never mind the question, why is Iggy still alive, a better one is how can he still be so good? An absolutely amazing show.

15 Being Human

Probably my favourite UK  TV show (well, along with Misfits) . Simple plot, a ghost, a vampire and a werewolf live together and try, well, being human. It plays with some of the established mythos about the three, but it works as the story is delivered with humour and real emotion, as well as a real sense of horror about the existence of the three leads. I will admit to being filled with more than a little terror about the upcoming US remake.

16 Fringe

The best show on network TV no one’s watching. What a sad thing to write. But it’s about to get sadder. The show moves to the Friday night death zone in January, with an episode entitled “Firefly” (cue collective groan of despair from Whedon fans) . It’s intelligent science fiction, and the last episode when Olivia discovers Peter’s accidental betrayal was heartbreaking. Oh, well the DVD’s will be nice.

17 Desert boots

I had a pair of these when I was in my twenties. Very comfortable shoes, and I wore them until they fell apart. Then I didn’t replace them. Anyway, they seem to be back in style, so I picked up a pair recently. Still very comfortable, and they still look lovely.

18 Soundscapes

Still my favourite record shop in Toronto. The thing I love about this store is that I usually walk out with something different from what I intended when I went it. A great selection of CDs, vinyl, books, magazines and other music related stuff. Hey, I won tickets to a movie there this year (here’s hoping for those Jayhawks tickets)

19. The bow tie.

I wear a tie to work. I don’t have to, but I do anyway. I like ties, but this fall, I taught myself how to tie a bow tie. It wasn’t that easy, but after several hours of sitting in front of You-Tube with a mirror, I mastered it. It’s not for every day, but it adds style when necessary. And the sweetest pleasure? when people ask you if it’s a clip on, and you smile tell them “no” and bask  in their admiration.

20 Hope for the future

I usually end with a quotation for the end of the year – this one is no different. and it’s from Einstein.

The most beautiful and deepest experience one can have is the sense of the mysterious…One who has never had this experience seems to me if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be grasped there is something our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious.

Happy 2011

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Music Notes December 2010

December 22, 2010 at 7:46 pm (Uncategorized)

A little early this month, but I’m filled with the spirit of giving.

1. This is Spinal Tap

Holidays mean time to watch movies. I haven’t watched this one in a couple of years, but it’s always a pleaser. Rob Reiner’s inspired mockumentary about the gormless members of Spinal Tap and their disastrous US tour promoting Smell the Glove is apparently so close to life that when the Edge watched it, he felt like crying. “Oh by the way, the Boston gig is cancelled. Don’t worry, Boston’s not a big college town.”

2. The Weirdies – Volatile

It’s been out for a couple of weeks, but the new Weirdies album is still a joy. I haven’t quite made up my mind if it’s as brilliant as the first, but it’s certainly a joy. I’m also mildly puffed up that they use a tag from a review I wrote on their site: Betty Boop fronting the Ramones. They’re opening for the Sadies at the horseshoe New Year’s Eve.

3. Jeffrey Lee Pierce – Wildwood

JL Pierce was a victim of the American disease. Seriously talented, yet a slave to his own appetites, and by all accounts fascinated by violence and death. . Pierce died in the mid nineties, not yet 40. Although Pierce is best remembered for those first two Gun Club records, this one is worth a spin or two. It’s a lot like the Gun Club, but a little looser.

4. She & Him – “I Put a Spell on You” /”Lingering Still”

Notwithstanding my feelings about the camera policy at their shows, I still have a soft spot for She & Him, and their recording of the old Screaming Jay Hawkins song for a digital download is quite lovely.

5. Warpaint- Exquisite Corpse

Mmm, I think I like this better than the album. Not sure why, but the post-punky sound just sticks a little longer here that on their full length album. And who can ignore the nod to the Surrealists.

6. The T.A.M.I. Show

Thanks to my mate Paul for lending this one to me. The T.A.M.I. show is perhaps the greatest rock movie ever – featuring James Brown, the Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, Smokey Robinson and so many more. Well worth some of your holiday hours.

7.  Soft Boys – Underwater Moonlight

Not the hippest act around when this was recorded, yet Underwater Moonlight, with its curious blend of Syd Barrett and the new wave has only grown stronger. The album has been re-issued several times, but the new version from Yep Rock has something like 30 demos and outtakes as free downloads.  Certainly value for money.

8. Katrina & the Waves.

I hate the song “Walking on Sunshine.” Phew, Glad I got that out-of-the-way, but when you take that song out of the mix, Katrina & the Waves were a pretty good pop-rock combo. Most of the songs were written by ex-Soft Boy Kimberly Rew and he did have a knack for catchy songs. There’s a nice collection packaging their first two LPs along with a DVD of a concert, and that’s pretty much all you need.

9. Target

I’ve never been inside a Target store; don’t have ’em in Canada. But they do have a nice little Xmas download album – for free . You don’t need everything, but the Wavves/Best Coast track is worth having. Get it here.

10. Graham Parker & the Rumour – Squeezing Out Sparks

Before Joe Jackson, before Elvis Costello, there was Graham Parker: Part of that R&B pub rock tradition; yet angry enough for punk. Parker released a series of great records in the late 70’s, but somehow never quite got the acclaim he should have done. Squeezing out Sparks is his best record. Full of great tunes and deep lyrics. This version comes with a liver version of the record immediately following the studio. Also includes, Parker’s bitter attack on his record company Mercury Poisoning and the Jacksons’ “I Want you back.”

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New Aufheben (2011)

December 22, 2010 at 6:07 pm (Uncategorized)

The new issue of Aufheben arrived at my PO box yesterday.

The 2011 issue has three articles:

Return of the Crisis part 2, Benefits struggles in the UK, and a review of recent literature of disaster capitalism.

I always take extra copies, so if anyone’s interested…

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North Korea and China: Trotskyist Follies

December 20, 2010 at 1:49 pm (Uncategorized)

This summer I re-subscribed to Workers Vampire Vanguard, the bi-weekly newspaper of the U.S. Spartacist League. Back  in the days when I was a Trotskyist I subscribed to WV and assorted other Spartacist publications. I belonged to another tendency, but we believed it was important to monitor the OTO (Ostensible Trotskyist organizations) press; moreover, WV was not just the best thing about the Spartacists, you could often learn something from it.

When I bumped into a salesperson at the G-20 demonstrations in the summer, perhaps it was nostalgia or perhaps it was the pouring rain, but I sprung for a sub. Now, I haven’t been a Trotskyist for over fifteen years, but I do read the paper just to keep up with things, and of course I look forward to the China article.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union almost two decades ago, many on the international Trotskyist left were disoriented. After all, their political programme had been based on a certain understanding of how the so-called degenerated and deformed workers states operated. When the end of the Soviet Union failed to fit that understanding , it took some of them a few years to square the circle. Unfortunately, instead of reflecting on their failed programmes many of the Trotskyist organizations simply mechanically transferred the ideas onto the pallid Stalinist copies still in existence.

The Spartacist League often describe themselves as “orthodox Trotskyists” to distinguish themselves from such ‘revisionsists’ as the Internationalist Socialist Tendency (the Cliffite state-caps) or the United Secretariat (the Pabloite popularity chasers). No, the Sparts and their offspring pride themselves as the last true, according to them, defenders of Red October,  defending the proletarian property gains in the deformed and degenerated workers states. Even when the real Stalinists have long since given up, on they tread, calling for a new October revolution and a reborn, or was it reforged Fourth International.

No article on the Stalinist states ever seems to be complete without that quotation from Trotsky noting those who cannot defend old positions cannot conquer new ones. The quotation is from Trotsky’s In Defence of Marxism, a collection of letters and articles attempting to prevent a split in the US Socialist Workers Party around the issue of defence of the Soviet Union. Trotsky wrote a great many things, some of them, such as his History of the Russian Revolution are brilliant. But this book is shoddy, bullying and name calling at best (that always works doesn’t it?). THe only thing that makes Trotsky look good is that his followers followed an even more  crass line than he did. 

The words from the master are thrown against those who facing reality squarely, another injunction by Trotsky, have decided tha those so-called workers states aren’t worth very much anymore.  And to cling to China, Cuba and North Korea (we don’t hear much about Vietnam these days) doesn’t really mean much.

But back to the SL. Every few years or so, the Spartacist League publishes an article about China called ‘China on the brink’ or something like that. It’s always a long often well researched article, surveying the inroads capital has made into China, the social changes, and particularly the workers resistance and the so on. But near the end of the article, the SL sagely concludes that although China has moved along from last time they wrote this article, China still remains a workers state because the core of the state property forms remain proletarian.

Now, in the mid-eighties, the SL saw people leave the group to eventually became the International Bolshevik Tendency. This was my old group, and for many years the IBT positioned itself as a beacon of Orthodox Spartacism. They don’t talk that way anymore, but still retain the idea. (True confessions time: I was a member of the IBT from 1988 to 1995)

 Anyway, imagine my amusement when I read on the IBT web site an article bolding declaring Defend North Korea!” Ah, North Korea. If Stalin wanted socialism in one country, the North Koreans ambitions were not quite so grand: they settled for socialism within one family. Kim Il Sung; Kim Jung Il and the new one whose name escapes me. A brutal, paranoid dictatorship, and yet according to the article ” The defense of the North Korean deformed workers’ state is an issue of vital importance to the entire international workers’ movement.” Uh, huh.

In addition, they argue:

We are not particularly interested in who fired first—for Marxists, the essential issue is the necessity to defend the social gains represented by the overturn of capitalist property in North Korea (and China) against any attempt, whether foreign or domestic, to undermine or overthrow them. We militarily defend North Korea against imperialism despite the anti-working class character of the bureaucratized Stalinist caste headed by Kim Jong-il.

There’s a lot in this paragraph, but the nub of it is that capitalism was overthrown in China and North Korea and that the  post capitalist, if not actually socialist, character of these countries resides in their property forms. How exactly does that benefit the working class? While it would not likely benefit the working class in North Korea to have a pro-US regime running roughshod over them, living under a megamanial parasite who feasts while the population starves is a curious benefit too.

So on the brink we stand. I’m not much for waving  quotations around. They can be useful to illustrate an idea, but when they are used for authority, it reminds me a little too much of the church. Nevertheless, another one of those Trotsky letters is entitled “Learn to think.” Good advice indeed.

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Tricky Review (ffw)

December 20, 2010 at 1:27 pm (Uncategorized)

I was supposed to go to see Tricky at the Mod Club last week, but a nasty cold knocked me over. A shame because his new album Mixed Race  is his  best in years (in my opinion) anyway.

Here’s a review from Exclaim. Sounds as if I missed a good one.

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Captain Beefheart R.I.P.

December 18, 2010 at 3:22 pm (Uncategorized)

I was looking at the Soundscapes web site this morning, when I came across some sad news: Don Van Vliet, AKA Captain Beefheart, passed away yesterday at age 69 from complications from MS.

When I first started listening to music, I mean seriously listening to music, I was into punk: Loud, fast and snotty. But there were names that kept popping up in interviews, bands I’d never heard of.  Like the Stooges, the New York Dolls, and , yes Captain Beefheart.

The Stooges and the Dolls, I quickly found a got into. Beefheart however, seemed to pass me by. But still, I kept hearing the name. Musicians I respected, musicians I enjoyed, kept praising him.

I think the first Beefheart record I heard in its entirety was Safe as Milk, which my sister’s boyfriend gave me a tape on. It’s deceptive. Much like Beefheart’s earlier cover of “Diddy Wah Diddy” it seems straightforward enough, but when you really listen, you see there’s a mad genius there. Straight out blues rockers, ballads and theremin based weirdness.

The only other Beefheart record I own is Trout Mask Repica. It’s praised by many as one of the greatest albums ever released, and by others as unlistenable (I’ve read that it’s impossible to listen to the whole thing in one sitting, but I’ve done it). It’s not easy, but it’s compelling.

A partial list of those sighting Beefheart as an influence include the Stranglers, the Kills, PJ Harvey, Jon Spencer, the Pixies, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Talking Heads, Beck, the Black Keys, Franz Ferdinand, XTC, Sonic Youth, John Cale, Laurie Anderson, and John Lydon. The list goes on and on.

The Guardian has a nice obit of the Captain. And Mojo ran a good article on him last year. 

A great talent. Sadly missed.

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For Cecily

December 16, 2010 at 10:32 pm (Uncategorized)

Watched the Buffy episode “Fool for Love” again recently. Y’know the one with Spike’s origin story and this bit of poetry by William Pratt which indirectly led to said origin. (Of course he didn’t find that rhyme for “bulge in it” until the last episode of Angel a century later.)

For Cecily:

My soul is wrapped in harsh repose,
Midnight descends in raven colored clothes,
But soft…Behold!
A sunlight beam,
Cutting a swath of glimmering gleam,
My heart expands…
Tis grown a bulge in it,
Inspired by your beauty…

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After a brief Lull

December 16, 2010 at 3:02 am (Uncategorized)

Hmm. Not much posted recently. The pre-Xmas work load and a rather unpleasant cold which led me to miss last Sunday’s Tricky show  hasn’t left me much time for updating things here (or elsewhere). 

Still, with the holidays almost within reach, I imagine things will liven up soon. Patience, patience…

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Xmas Bloody Xmas

December 4, 2010 at 4:39 pm (Uncategorized)

A few weks to go now, and this seems like the perfect time to post the words to TV Smith’s marvellous song.


It’s been building up
Now we’re coming up
To the time of year when greed is good
Snow and icicles
The price triples
But you wouldn’t change it if you could
The tills ring out like jingle bells
The kitchen’s filled with murderous smells
No-one’s going to end up hungry here
We’ll snooze under the Xmas tree
While boring films play on T.V.
Forget about reality – cheers!

It’s Xmas, Xmas, Xmas bloody Xmas
It’s all you ever hear
Xmas, Xmas, Xmas bloody Xmas
Until it almost sounds sincere

Carol singers croon
Sentimental tunes
Suddenly your problems disappear
Am I losing touch
Or did I drink too much
Or is a real solution nowhere near?
This great big party never stops
Hang tinsel round your cardboard box
Last year’s leftovers are back in the shops
And landfills spew out plastic bags
From lorryloads of booze and fags
God, don’t you hate this time of year?

It’s Xmas, Xmas, Xmas bloody Xmas
It’s all you ever hear
Xmas, Xmas, Xmas bloody Xmas
Until it almost sounds sincere
Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!

Under studio lights the Santas fry
In shows recorded last July
And tanned professionals read their lines
To moth-eaten reindeer
Play victim in fake-snowball fights
Where no-one’s injured, no-one dies
No-one has to sleep outside
Freezing and in fear
Singing, “Goodwill to all mankind!”
We’ll put things right some other time
Meanwhile – that special day is here

So happy Xmas, happy bloody Xmas
It almost sounds sincere
Happy Xmas, happy bloody Xmas
It almost sounds sincere

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