Music Notes March 2012

March 31, 2012 at 10:07 pm (Uncategorized)

Clean out your ears and listen up!

1. Simple Minds – X5

Now when you say Simple Minds, a lot of people think of “Don’t you Forget about me” from The Breakfast Club, a passable pop song. From that point it was all downhill in terms of them producing anything interesting.   This low-priced box set contains Simple Minds first five records (one a double album), and they are nothing short of amazing. The first one is a Roxy/Bowie knockoff that’s not without its charms, but the rest of the albums (including a double) are an electronica treat. Current fave is Empires and dance. Save your pennies, it’s essential.

2. Warsaw – Warsaw

Somewhere between being the Stiff Kittens and Joy Division, the lads called themselves Warsaw (after a Bowie track). They recorded an album they didn’t like and them started to put out a series of simply amazing records culminating with their second and final album Closer. Warsaw contains 17 tracks, many of which were later recorded as Joy division. But for the avid fan, it’s interesting to hear these early versions. I can’t say I prefer them to the later versions, but it’s fascinating to see the seeds emerge.

3. Spiritualized – “Hey Jane”

For most of his career Jason Pierce has cheerfully lifted from the Stooges, the Velvets, Dylan, and old folk-blues records. The more orchestral stuff doesn’t thrill me so much, but this Velvets-style rocker is the single from the new album Sweet Heart Sweet Light out mid-April.  The rather disturbing video runs to 10 minutes, but it’s grimly compelling stuff.

4. Carl Perkins – “Lend me your Comb”

One of the great things about music is that there’s always some absolutely wonderful song out there waiting to be discovered by you. The current issue of Uncut has a CD of originals the Beatles covered. Among them this gem by Carl Perkins. How can you resist a song with the lines: “Lend me your comb/it’s time to go home/Gotta confess/my hair is a mess” ?

5. Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds –s/t

Beyond their first two records, I was never much of an Oasis fan, but I seem to have ended up with both Gallagher brothers solo albums. And to be honest I’m not sure which one I prefer. Liam’s is the rocker, but Noel’s has a quiet charm. Aside from a dull opener, the record is full of good hooks and great sounds. The single “The Death of You and Me” is probably my favourite thing on both albums. The deluxe edition comes with a DVD including some videos and a making of documentary.

6. Plumtree – Best of

OK, so I still haven’t finished the Scott Pilgrim series nor seen the movie, but this is where it started: A 1998 single by Halifax indie-band Plumtree.  Currently, I’m too lazy to sit down and work my way through their catalogue, so this greatest hits package is a good place to start. Stumbling, amateurish adorable pop music.

7. Iron & Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days

OK this an an odd one. I was in Banana Republic with my wife. A CD was playing over the PA. “Who is this?” my wife asked. I had no idea, so she asked. Iron and Wine. Can’t remember which album it was . This is their second. It’s full of simple songs that grow deeper with every listen like an old friendship

8. The Ramones – Pleasant Dreams

The sixth studio record was a bit of a disappointment. All things in proportion, the Ramones never completely disappoint, but like Subterranean Jungle, which followed this, it seems to lack direction. Having said that, “We Want the Airwaves” and “The KKK Took my Baby Away” are terrific Ramones fare. Why wasn’t this band bigger?

9. The Small Faces – The Small Faces.

Did I hear right or did I imagine it, there’s going to be a movie about Steve Marriott? Never mind, this one is the second Small Faces album (or third if you count the compilation From the Beginning), but it’s also the second to be called The Small Faces. (and to make matters even more confusing, this version is a mix of the US and UK releases.) Why mention it? Because it’s a great record no matter how you slice it. I’ve never been a big fan of Marriott’s voice, but the music, mod, soul, early psychedelia and more is unbeatable. Listen to “Get yourself together” and not be moved. C’mon, I dare you.

10. The Wall – “Ghetto”

Sometimes a group only has one really great song in them. Shortly after this record was released circa 1980 on Small Wonder Records, singer Ivan Kelly was kicked out of the band after he attacked an old man. I saw them on tour with Stiff Little Fingers the following year. Great song.  Pounding drums, crashing guitars and an anguished vocal about Northern Ireland. Wonder what they’re doing now?

And coming up soon: First Aid Kit with Peggy Sue, and the following week the Cribs. Then in May, Spiritualized, and finally Brian James and Rat Scabies.

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There Will Be Cake

March 30, 2012 at 2:27 am (Uncategorized)

Ooh, two birthdays at our house today. My daughter is 12, and my dog is 1. We’re having samosas and birthday cake. What could be better?

Both the kids like to hear the stories of their birth, and I can tell it with a sense of perfect clarity. It’s hard to know what I’m leaving out, but the versions I tell never seem to change(unlike many of my stories which evolve over time)

It’s a sobering thought being a parent. I remember the first time I walked into the ICU (there were some complications) and a nurse snapped, “Yes?”.

“Er, I’m here to see my…daughter.” It’s funny saying those words out loud for the first time.

So today is a good day. A time to remember, a time to enjoy. Happy birthday girl. Oh, and you too Lester.

Whenever friends have children, I always try to find a reason to include this beautiful sonnet in the card.

Sonnet XII

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls, all silvered o’er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
   And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.


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Dystopia Rules: The Hunger Games

March 21, 2012 at 3:29 pm (Uncategorized)

I fear mass culture is driving my reading tastes. I’m working my way through the Southern Vampire mysteries. I’ve just finished A Game of Thrones, and now onto The Hunger Games.  (for the record, I haven’t read any of the Twilight series).

To tell you the truth, I didn’t have much interest in reading the book until a week back. I saw Battle Royale and assumed it was a version of that (I have no opinion as to whether or not Ms. Collins lifted the plot). But with the hype around the film, and especially all of the good press it received, I thought, well maybe.

I ordered a copy from the public library and found myself behind 2,100 people who had the same idea. Then the library workers went on strike. Happily, I got a copy from a school library (it always helps to have school age children), and read the first few chapters last night. And so far, yeah, it’s good.

When I first started watching or reading science fiction, the vision that was offered was the Star Trek utopia. A futuristic paradise where most human social problems had been abolished and the USS Enterprise sailed through space as a thinly veiled apologia for US imperialism in Vietnam. Next Generation was more radical and abolished capitalism for humans (although the Ferengi appeared as its characateur).

Even dystopias had this flavour. Orwell’s 1984, though loved by conservatives, was downplayed in favour of Brave New world. Now, it seems Orwell’s vision of scarcity is back. Is this a reflection of capitalism’s industrial and environmental decline?

Something to explore after I’ve finished the book and seen the film. Below is a lighter take from Holley Maher’s blog; many of the points are well taken.

And I love the graphic.


The Embarrassing Side Effects of Having Recently Read “The Hunger Games”

Yes. I did it. I finally read the first Hunger Games book, in exactly one day. I had an 8 am flight from Pittsburgh to Memphis to Nashville, so around 6:30 or so after making my way through security in Pittsburgh, I wandered into one of the airport bookstores. About 20 hours later, I’d finished reading it. Actually, I don’t think what I did was “read” that book, it was something more akin to ravenously devouring it, only stopping occasionally to eat, drink, and pee. And I usually did those three things either at a break-neck pace or while clinging to the book with my unoccupied hand. I read it while going through the drive through (because, clearly, I couldn’t waste time cooking myself a square meal.)

Now that I’m finished, I’ve gotta say, guys, that I was pretty whole-heartedly shocked to find that reading The Hunger Games didn’t come with the same side effects as reading The Twilight series (i.e., self-loathing, the feeling that you’re harboring a rather dirty secret, a slightly lower I.Q. level upon completion, etc.) In fact, although the writing itself was pretty simple, I’m sure with the objective of catering to a wider age-range of readers, I found the plot incredibly well thought out, insightful, and obviously addiction-inducing.

However, I’ve noticed that reading The Hunger Games does come with several side effects of its own. I would warn consumers to be on the lookout for the following possible symptoms if you’ve read Hunger Games recently, and would-be-readers, be warned. Below are the scientifically proven and laboratory tested* risks of reading The Hunger Games:

1. Strong urge to re-read the Harry Potter series. And maybe Percy Jackson after that. And then Maximum Ride. And then Unwind, and Maze Runner, and — OMFG, someone please forcibly remove me from the Young Adult section.

2. Wearing your hair in a braid and believing that the effect is “bad-ass tree-climbing arrow-shooting hottie” when all most people see is Tomb Raider.

3. A fleeting desire to get into Tribute-worthy shape. This, however, usually passes when you realize that your gym definitely does not stock its weight room with spears, bows, and climbing ropes and in no way are you going to limit your diet to rabbits and berries.

4. Inability to judge between Watchable YouTube Videos and Total Crap YouTube Videos since you worked your way through every sanctioned clip, trailer, and interview relating to the movie and moved on to fan-reenacted videos clearly shot with an iPhone in some bored teenager’s backyard.

5. The belief that “Primrose” might just be the perfect name for your first-born girl.

6. Participation in several “Which Hunger Games Character RU Most Like/wHiCh DiStRiCt ArE U 4um???” online quizzes coupled with chronic dissatisfaction with the results.

7. Strong desire to order that FREE District Identification Pass from (I decided against this because, Why on earth would I be working as a Ferrier living in District 1?? That’s ridiculous.)

8. Loss of sleep due to tireless hours spent working on your Katniss character in Sims. You just can’t figure out how to keep her alive if all you put on her property is a lake and some trees.

9. Severely premature consideration of your Halloween costume. (It’s gonna take a lot of prep to come up with a passable Effie Trinket getup.)

10. Greater than usual amounts of distrust in the government, and severe apocolyptophobia.

Consider yourselves warned.


*No animals were harmed in the reading of The Hunger Games.

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Song of the Worms Redux

March 20, 2012 at 2:25 pm (Uncategorized)

I mentioned in an earlier post that in writing a blog I sometimes felt a disconnect with readers.

Sure, some people regularly post comments (thanks – you know who you are!), and some are abusive (it’s OK – I don’t need to know who you are), but the majority of the hits are a mystery.

Case in point “Song of the Worms.”  It’s a poem by Margaret Atwood. I printed it in Red & Black Notes a while back, and posted it on this blog in 2009. Since then I’ve received over 1,200 hits on this poem. Not a huge number by some accounts, but it’s a lot for me.

What’s stranger is that every once in a while there’s a flare-up of hits – this week I’ve had 69 hits so far. Is it on a university lit course somewhere?

A puzzler.

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Split in Notes from Underground?

March 19, 2012 at 1:52 am (Uncategorized)

I used to know a guy named Joe Flexer. Joe was a Trotskyist, had been in the United Secretariat, but had also been a CPer. In the mid-nineties, I even worked on an election campaign of his back in the day. We weren’t really friends, but I did go to his memorial after his death. Anyway, according to the Wikipedia entry, Joe once said, that he belonged to the Joe Flexer Communist Party. The membership was small, but the discussions were very lively.

When I published Red & Black Notes, it was pretty much a one-man show. After I joined IP, I decided to wind up R&BN because I was part of the collective. This blog though is a partial continuance of R&BN, but also a promotion of IP and also my own cultural interests, which include movies and music.

Needless to say, there’s a slightly split personality flavour about the blog.

I can imagine that some of the politicos appreciate the music notes, but I can’t imagine that the cultural followers enjoy the politics (who knows?). And then there are friends and family who read the blog because they think I might have something interesting to say – I guess they don’t listen to me in person  🙂

So anyway, I’m considering splitting this into two separate blogs. One for the politics, one for the other stuff.It might make it easier to digest.

Or maybe I’m wrong. And it’s good to be exposed to different things?

Chime in. Please.

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Fantasy for All!

March 19, 2012 at 1:45 am (Uncategorized)

Like a Nerd loves Sci-Fi

Last week I took my son to see John Carter, the movie adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp novel. Not as terrible as the reviews suggested, but not as great as it could have been. One bright spot was a trailer for Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie. Only a few months now.

But it’s not just the Avengers this year. Coming soon is the third and final part of Christopher Nolan’s Batman, the Spider-man reboot, and then later in the year, it’s the Hobbit.

Ah, OK, I admit it, I love comic books, science fiction, fantasy and all that.  Last week, I also took my son to the Toronto Comic Con at the Convention Centre. Comic Con really marks the beginning of the convention season which culminates in August with the massive Fan Expo in Toronto.

Fan Expo has been staging events in Torono for 17 years and last year over 70,000 people attended. Once upon a time, comic books were the domain of nerds, but now, superheroes are big business and fantasy too. Vampires are big business. Hell, there’s money in them thar nerds!

And it’s not just movies. A cursory look over the TV schedule will confirm it too: Once Upon a Time, Grimm (2 network shows dedicated to the premise fairy tales are real), True Blood, Dr. Who, Being Human (UK and US versions), Sanctuary, and so on.

Gonig to a convention though is a bit different, and I’ll admit though that I hadn’t really expected it to be big. Last year, I went to the opening day of the Fan Expo convention. I arrived  at the Convention Centre with the kids about 15 minutes before the doors opened, but there were already hundreds of people ahead of us, many in costume. I wondered, just how early you have to arrive just to be first.

There are three basic components to any convention

1. The floor. Hundreds of retailers set up where you can find pretty much anything. T-shirts, comic books, action figures – you name it – I was unable to find a Hellboy coffee mug, but who is to say it wasn’t there. (Actually, I few weeks later I discovered said item at a local comic book store, but declided not to buy it as the Dark Horse web site admitted the decal on the cup was painted with lead based paints. Hmm).

Walking into the expo is a big overwhelming, and my first response was to panic: No I don’t want to be here, but quickly I got used to it. At Comic Con I was much more prepared. I even had a list of things I was looking for. The dealers were fewer and the crowd smaller, so things weren’t  quite so frantic. almost civilized.

2. Signings

One of the big attractions of any expo is a chance to meet your heroes, either movie or TV stars, or illustrators and writers. This is done in two ways. Either you line-up to have whatever you want signed, or you go to one of the numerous Q and A sessions, or you can pay to have your picture taken in a photo op. At the Fan Expo last year, I was caught off guard by this – I hadn’t really considered what to do, I didn’t bring anything to have signed so, my time was brief. Among those attending were Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Barbara Eden (Jeanie), Nichelle Nicholks (Lt. Uhura), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and many more. I briefly considered standing in a line, but when you have two children in tow, it doesn’t really work. Instead I walked up to Larry Hagman’s booth, where there was amazingly no line-up, and we fist-bumped.

This time I was a little more organized. I got an Angel box set signed by Charisma Carpenter (Cordelia Chase), who in vain tried to engage my son in conversation. I also said hello to Robert Picardo who played the doctor on Star Trek Voyager, but I really liked him in a small role he played in the first season of Justifed,; a collector of Hitler’s art just so he could burn it. I briefly considered queuing for Tia Carerre’s autograph, but eventually decided against. I did however buy a Tom Strong print by co-creator Chris Sprouse.

3. Forums and meetings

Many of these consist of  “Fan Q and A’s”, but others focus on a particular aspect of fantasy. At Fan Expo, the Toronto Steam Punk Society for example had a costuming workshop.  Other include manga, horror or cosplay. You name it there’s an enthusiast.

And so it goes. Like any genre, you can dig as deep as you like. Take a show like The Big Bang Theory which celebrates nerds and fan boy culture. I’m astonished at how shallow the appreciation is. Sure, it’s comic books and sci-fi TV, but for the most part it’s Marvel and DC with the occasional Star Wars and Star Trek, but I don’t recall ever hearing a reference to William Gibson. Plenty of Stan Lee jokes, but nothing about Jack Kirby, Alan Moore or even Neil Gaiman (OK, Kirby’s dead, but that’s no real excuse)  I guess my point is that even though nerd culture is mass culture, there’s still plenty of undiscovered country.

See ya in August.


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Family Day with some Heartless Bastards

March 14, 2012 at 1:06 pm (Uncategorized)

This is probably the reason I’m not a journalist or a music critic. Too slow to  get things written. Anyway, a review of the Heartless Bastards show in Toronto a few weeks back. Sorry, no pictures for this one either. None of my shows were usable.

Who goes to a club on a Monday night? Who goes to a club on Family Day? apparently quite a few people, if Monday’s Heartless Bastards show at the Horseshoe Tavern is any indication. The club was packed, and packed early, but perhaps it reflected the return of this amazing band to Toronto more than nay general rule about holidays.

I arrived at the shoe a little after 9 and opener Devin Therriault was already on stage. Hadn’t seen him before, but he played an energetic blend of rock ‘n’ roll, and rockabilly. Great show. Score a free song at his site.

Just before 10, Hacienda took the stage. I saw Hacienda last year when they opened for the Greenhornes, and while I liked them last time, I much preferred this year’s show. The songs sounded shorter and sharper, and had an urgency to them that was lacking last time. New album out soon.

A short break and it was on to the main event. With the release of their fourth album Arrow, the Heartless Bastards show they are still at the top of their game. Erika Wennerstrom’s voice is a bit of an acquired taste, but there’s no denying the power behind it and her guitar. The band played a selection of songs from across their catalogue , and with each song the audience responded appreciatively.

Two minor criticisms. THe spotty sound quality at the Horseshoe. Now the Horseshoe is one of my favourite venues in Toronto. A small club with great sight lines, but for some reason, the band had sound problems throughout their set (it did get better as things went on). Second, whenever the band build up momentum with a rocker, they seemed to follow it with a slow song. Not that the songs weren’t great, but it tended to stall things.

OK, the first happens sometimes, and the second is merely carping. A great show, but garage band blues rockers. What is it with Ohio these days?



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Internationalist Perspective 56

March 13, 2012 at 5:09 pm (Uncategorized)

The new issue of Internationalist Perspective is now available.

The issue features the following articles:

The Historical Perspective: A Face Unveiled (Editorial)
Workers of all Countries Become Outraged
They Don’t Get it (IP leaflet on Occupy)
Does Capital Own Democracy (correspondence)
Occupy: Results and Prospects
Two Battles at Longview and the Occupy Movement
England Burning (discussion on the UK riots)
Farewell to Will Barnes
Virtual Trillions

Articles will be posted to the IP web site in the near future, and subscriber/exchange copies will be sent out this week.

The New York post office box is now closed. All snail mail should be directed to

PO Box 47643, Don Mills, ON, M3C 3S7, Canada.


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Notes on Being a Dad (Part 2)

March 12, 2012 at 3:04 am (Uncategorized)

Another in an occasional series.

Sundays are usually funny things. Trying to forget last week and not think about next doesn’t usually make for a fun time. I suppose then, that when something good does happen, you need to treasure that moment and remember it when all the other things in life turn to shit.

I had a good day.

In the morning I took my eight-year-old son to the Toronto Comicon down at the convention centre. I’ll write more about this later, but imagine being a kid in a room full of comic books, Star Wars stuff, people in funky costumes and lots of other cool stuff. (OK, so Charisma Carpenter’s efforts to engage him in conversation went poorly, it was still good.)

Did I mention it was 15 degrees in Toronto today. A glorious sunny day. After we got home, the boy said, “Dad, can we play soccer?” And I was in such a good mood that instead of saying, “we’ll see” I agreed. A little later in the afternoon, the question was asked, “Can we play soccer again?” This time, I said no. Then I hesitated…and said yes. I mouthed the old cliché to my wife: one day he won’t ask. And though it breaks my heart to admit it, I know one day he won’t.

And at the end of the day, we finished Neil Gaiman’s marvelous take on Kipling,  The Graveyard Book. (What to read next is a problem, but I’m sure something will be found)

Class society, capitalism, call it what you will, grinds us down.  It strips our lives of joy and turns us into commodities. I like to think that today was, on a micro ultra-personal level, resistance to that. It was an effort, however unconsciously, to be human.  A good day.


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Whoever you vote for…

March 5, 2012 at 1:46 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s been a long time since I voted in an election, but I still follow all of the weird twists and creepy turns of the process.

I’ve been reading A Game of Thrones recently, and have often thought for whatever treacherous kingly fantasy George Martin writes next, he could learn a lot by watching how the Democrats and republicans choose their leaders. (In Canada, the dreary robo-calls scandal continues to dominate the body politic).  

The news of Vladimir Putin’s recent election victory in Russia reminded me of this joke.

After the 2000 election in the US, the Americans sought help from the chairman of the Russian Central Electoral Commission Aleksandr Veshnyakov when they could not determine a winner between US presidential candidates Bush and Gore. After conducting a thorough study, Veshnyakov declared Putin the winner.


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