Music Notes: September 2012

September 30, 2012 at 8:01 pm (Uncategorized)

The fall edition…

1. The XX – Coexist

I confess, I can never remember which XX song I’m listening to whenever the album is playing. They all have a dreamy vibe to them. The second album is no different, except it does seem more confident in its setting. Somehow more roomy. Perfect for Saturday night or Sunday morning.

2. All Tomorrow’s Parties

Named for the Velvets song, this film and the music festival for which it was named, is certainly worth checking out. The basic principle is that each year a group is named to “curate” the festival, which makes for a pretty interesting selection of artists every year. The film takes the form of a series of interviews and snippets of live performances. Not really much direction, but some very fine bands. And to think it usually takes place at British Holiday camps.

3. The Smiths – s/t

Never owned a copy of this until a few weeks back. A local used CD shop was having a sale, and I picked this up. Really a terrific record – a great balance of Johnny Marr’s guitar nad Morrissey’s miserableness. “Suffer Little Children” (the song about the Moors Murderers still sends chills up my spine)

4. Townes Van Zandt – Live at the Old Quarter, Houston Texas

A live 2 CD set containing highlights from Townes’ 1973 shows. Simply a marvellous, fucked-up songwriter and story-teller. I saw Townes in Toronto   a few years before his death, along with what seemed like most of Toronto’s country-folk establishment in the audience (inc the Cowboy Junkies and Blue Rodeo). That was a great show too. This set features a younger, more vital Townes. Go find it.

5. Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols

Ah, it’s the 35th anniversary of this one, so expect all sorts of nostalgia along with the re-issue package. It’s easy to forget in all of the time that has passed and in all the subsequent reunions accompanying cynicism, just how dangerous this record was. No, not really dangerous, but there was such hatred for this band. I was a little young to fully appreciate this until the moment had passed, but still a stunning record. Whatever followed, this was the real thing.

6. The Pogues – Poguetry in Motion

I’m working my way through The Wire and am halfway through season three. At the ed of an episode, there’s a wake for a fellow officer. “The Body of an American” is the song they sing along to. The rest of this EP is quite wonderful as well. Whatever mood you’re in, the Pogues make you feel better.

7. One Direction – “Live While We’re Young ”

No I haven’t gone soft, but I do have a 12 year-old daughter. For the past, oh I don’t know, forever, One D have been a staple in my house. And as much as I detest boy bands, I’ll admit that the lads aren’t the worst – “What Makes you Beautiful” is a well-crafted pop song. However, boy bands tend to have an expiry date, and with their new album a matter of weeks away, talk turns to whether or not they still have “it.” This new single, in my opinion, doesn’t. It’s not terrible. It just sounds like one of those songs that end up as outtakes on the deluxe edition of the album. Countless One D-ers may disagree, so we’ll see. Just sounds a bit samey to my ears.

8. Non-“Intro/Total War”

Dating back to 1992, this song appears on the free CD given away with the September issue of Mojo magazine. The theme of the CD is electricity and is selected by Mute’s Daniel Miller. Hard to really describe except to say it has a suffocating intensity. Miller writes on the liner notes: I ended this compilation with [it] because it’s a track that can’t be followed.” Uh huh.

9. Le Tigre – “Deceptacon”

No, not the autobots sworn enemies. Hadn’t listened to this in ages, but the track is featured in last week’s episode of the mediocre “The Mindy Project.” Interesting. (Actually prefer the DFA remix though).

10. Sam Sniderman

The passing of Sam the Record Man founder Sam Sniderman marks an end of some kind of era. Sam’s was the first record store I went into in Canada (probably the one in Niagara Square – think I bought Lou Reed’s Rock n Roll Animal). The big Sam’s on Yonge Street was one of the first mega-stores in Toronto, and you could easily while away hours there. Never the coolest record chain (can a chain ever be cool?), its disappearance a few years back in the digital age made me reminiscent about the days when you lined up outside the store to buy the new record from your favourite band. Downloading just doesn’t have the same thrill. Goodbye Sam.

PS Saw First Aid Kit last week. Review coming soon.

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Michael Cho: Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes

September 29, 2012 at 5:56 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

On Thursday, I went down to Gallery 129  on Ossington Avenue to see a small exhibition of Michael Cho’s work from his book Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes. 

The book is a collection of Cho’s paintings of, well, back alleys and urban landscapes in Toronto. Cho has an arresting style which to me calls to mind those phrases about the lonely city. It’s striking the almost total absence of people in these paintings. Haunting.

Unfortunately, the exhibition ends today, but have a look at his stuff at his blog

The book is published by Drawn and Quarterly.

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Exchanges on South Africa

September 29, 2012 at 3:23 pm (Uncategorized)

South Africa has become a news fixture again since the recent massacre of miners.

There’s a good exchange of Internationalist Perspective’s blog on recent events and the character of South Africa. It’s a bit long to re-post, but head on over to IP’s blog.


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Back to the Grind

September 23, 2012 at 8:47 pm (Uncategorized)

Following an all to brief liberation, I’ve had to return to wage slavery, which accounts for the lack of posts this month. Sorry. Will try to rectify that.

Still, on a Sunday, I’m reminded of the lyric from the Smiths’ “Still Ill” :

“and if you must go to work tomorrow
well, if I were you I wouldn’t bother
for there are brighter sides to life
and I should know because I’ve seem them
but not very often…”

Which is all very nice if you can afford to be off work. For most people, work is a deeply unpleasant, alienating activity, the only alternative to which is quite often even more unpleasant.

More to come.

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New Aufheben (2012)

September 13, 2012 at 9:35 pm (Uncategorized) ()

The UK communist journal has changed its publishing schedule. Up to now, the collective has always published its annual issue in late October in time for the London Anarchist bookfair. Now it’s earlier. This is a bit of a problem if you rely on me to get your copy at the Toronto, Hamilton or Montreal anarchist bookfairs. The issue arrives after they’ve taken place.

This issue contains four articles: An editorial on workfare, green capitalism, the Euro crisis and a piece on the Arab Spring written by the German group Friends of the Classless Society.

The issue is a bit thicker than usual and a bit more expensive – $8. Get in touch with me if you’re interested in touch.

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Language is a Virus (again)

September 13, 2012 at 9:28 pm (Uncategorized)

I was dropping my kid off for the school bus the other morning when a curious scene unfolded in front of me.

A group of other children were waiting for the bus too, but entertaining themselves with an inpromptu game of long jump. “Get a choc rock” said one of them. Initially I thought I had misheard. Maybe shakra? OK, that’s a bit unlikely for 9 year olds. Chocolate rock , a new type of candy? I listened further.

Turns out it was chalk rock (to mark where they landed). I don’t think I’ve ever heard “chalk” and rock rhymed before. I grew up in England, and while my accent is considerably more Canadian than it was when I was a child, it still bears the scars of an English upbringing: Chalk for me is always has that “or” sound it in not an OH sound (sorry, couldn’t find IPA symbols). Does it matter?

In the UK, accent was and is always a matter of judgement. Does it matterin the US? Have a read through this piece from last Sunday’s Times. Interesting. Especially since Obama is criticized for being too black and not black enough elsewhere – also because a goodly number of white kids effect “black” speak.


Obama and the Racial Politics of America.

TWO aspects of President Obama’s acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night were of linguistic interest. The first was “signifying” — the use of indirect humor as critique, and a much discussed feature of black speech. “My opponent and his running mate are … new … to foreign policy,” he said, adding the two pauses for great comedic effect. The second, and more familiar, was the soaring crescendo, beginning with “in the words of Scripture, ours is a future filled with hope,” in which Mr. Obama demonstrated his strongest mode of linguistic performance — the black preacher style — to end his remarks (“knowing that providence is with us and that we are surely blessed”).

“Artful,” the Republican strategist Steve Schmidt called it. “Literary,” said the liberal commentator Rachel Maddow.

Language played a notable role in the last election cycle, when President George W. Bush and Joseph R. Biden Jr., now the vice president, called Mr. Obama “articulate,” and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, observed that Mr. Obama spoke “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

Language is playing a role in this electoral season, too, but in ways most observers have overlooked. Because language is a primary factor in shaping whether a politician is seen as “likable” or “relatable,” the stark differences in speaking styles between Mr. Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, are probably contributing to the persistently higher marks for “personality” that Mr. Obama has gotten in numerous polls.

Mr. Romney’s manner of speaking is essentially the verbal equivalent of his public persona: flat, one-dimensional, unable to connect. It is striking that he sounds almost the same in every speech, regardless of the audience. Observers have chronicled the wooden, monotonous nature of his delivery, the lack of tonal variation, the multiple hedges, the forced laughter, the “Leave It to Beaver”-era “gosh”-ness of his speaking. A painfully awkward example: his attempt to interact with black youngsters, at a parade in Jacksonville, Fla., for Martin Luther King’s Birthday in 2008, where he dully barked: “Who let the dogs out? Woof, woof.” During the primary campaign this year, he was mocked as inauthentic for throwing in some “y’alls” while stumping in the South.

This linguistic judgment is not based on race or party. Our last three presidents have all been able to shift their speaking styles — an ability that is distinct from eloquence or empathy. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were known for speaking in a “folksy” manner: Mr. Clinton with black and Southern audiences, and Mr. Bush with Southern and Latino audiences (he would even switch into Spanish in his speeches). Before them, Lyndon B. Johnson was perhaps the president most notable for variation in speaking style. More recently, the blunt (and occasionally profane) style of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, and the strategic sprinklings of Spanish by Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, have contributed to their rising profiles in the Republican Party.

In 2008, Mr. Obama took the linguistic flexibility of his predecessors to new heights. Take, for example, his style-shifting during a visit to Ben’s Chili Bowl, a well-known Washington eatery, days before his inauguration in 2009. In a scene captured on YouTube, Mr. Obama declined to accept the change from a black cashier with the statement “Nah, we straight.” These three short, seemingly simple, words exhibited distinct linguistic features associated with African-American ways of speaking.

First was the rendering of “no” as “nah.” The vowel sound in “no” is like the one in “note,” while the vowel sound in “nah” is like the one in “not” (not to be confused with the way some whites say “nah” as in “gnat,” or the way some Southerners say “naw” like the vowel sound in “gnaw”).

Second was Mr. Obama’s use of “straight” in the sense of “O.K.,” “fine,” “all right.” Observers have noted Mr. Obama’s use of black slang in relation to hip-hop culture, his use of words like “flow” (the mapping of rhymes onto a beat) or “tight” (cool, hip). In his memoir “Dreams From My Father,” Mr. Obama also used words and phrases that are not as widely known outside the black community, like “trifling” (lazy and inadequate) and “high-yella” (a reference to light-skinned blacks).

Third was Mr. Obama’s omission of the word “are.” The removal of forms of “to be” — what linguists call copula absence — is one of the most important and frequently studied features of black English.

MR. OBAMA’S embrace of the black preacher tradition is also reflected in his use of call-and-response. A quintessential example was his speech to a predominantly black crowd in South Carolina in 2008. He fired up the audience by slowly walking around the stage and then called them with words associated with Malcolm X:

Obama: They’re tryna bamboozle you.

Audience response: Yes!

Obama: It’s the same old okey-doke.

Audience: That’s right!

Mr. Obama’s ability to bring together “white syntax” with “black style” played a critical role in establishing his identity as both an American and a Christian.

It also has a multilingual dimension. In his 2011 visit to Puerto Rico, for example, he got cheers for using “boricua” to describe residents of the commonwealth. In “Dreams From My Father,” he described learning enough Spanish in Harlem to “exchange pleasantries” with his Puerto Rican neighbors; noted that his Kenyan father spoke with a British accent; explained that he learned some Hawaiian Creole from his maternal grandfather; and claimed that it took him “less than six months to learn Indonesia’s language, its customs, and its legends.” Later in life, Mr. Obama wrote about greeting some of his Kenyan relatives in Luo. In March, The Washington Post even reported on his sign-language interactions with a deaf community college student.

While Mr. Obama’s linguistic flexibility is a political asset, his style-shifting is not without its critics. There are some who read his “chameleon-like” speaking skills as not quite authentic, or as slightly patronizing — a sort of linguistic pandering. Some African-American critics have strongly objected to Mr. Obama’s use in the public sphere of phrases deemed to be part of black private discourses. In June 2008, when Mr. Obama criticized absent black fathers, his style-shifting was read as a coded message to white voters that he could be tough on his own people, and prompted the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson to grumble that Mr. Obama was “talking down to black people.”

For their part, right-wing critics have observed Mr. Obama’s linguistic fluidity with a mix of admiration and outrage. “Obama can turn on that black dialect when he wants to, and turn it off,” Rush Limbaugh once fumed.

Regardless of who wins in November, Mr. Obama’s linguistic legacy will have implications for both education and politics. It’s still true, as Mr. Obama wrote in his book “The Audacity of Hope,” that “members of every minority group continue to be measured largely by the degree of our assimilation.” But while racial and ethnic minorities (and working-class whites) must continue to learn “standard” American English — the country’s dominant language — all children surely need to learn to understand and appreciate the nuances of America’s diverse ways of speaking.

In a multiethnic, multicultural America where Hispanics are the largest ethnic minority and Asians are the fastest-growing minority, national politicians also will have to be fluent in multiple ways of speaking. For too long, sounding presidential meant sounding like a white, middle- or upper-class straight man (with modest leeway for regional accents). In 2012 and beyond, it’s going to take a lot more than that to win over the hearts and minds — and ears — of the American people.

H. Samy Alim, the director of the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Language at Stanford University, and Geneva Smitherman, a professor of English at Michigan State University, are the authors of “Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S.”

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VMA Blues

September 11, 2012 at 1:38 am (Uncategorized) (, , , )

Wanna feel old? Watch MTV’s Video Music Awards with your (pre) teenage daughter.

Last week’s VMAs confirmed for me how much I dislike much of what is popular among “the kids.”  That’s OK, my kids hate most of what I listen to as well. I do like music, and like to think myself being informed about music. I still attend concerts and buy new music- while the music of my formative years (late 70s punk/post-punk) will probably always be dearest to my heart, I like to think I ‘m not one of those geezers for whom music ended when the Beatles broke up. I guess I just don’t like pop music (come to think of it, a lot of music in the charts in those halcyon days of 1977 was rubbish too). I am looking forward to 2:54  in November (and OK, the Rezillos too)

Still the interesting thing about watching awards shows is trying to guess who will still have a career five years from now. My daughter thinks that One Direction may be the best thing since sliced bread (maybe even better than sliced bread), but  the chances are, 1D’s best before date is fast approaching. The lads have new album, Take Me Home, out on November 12, but it seems unlikely to inspire the same near-hysteria as the first.

Rihanna, probably. Taylor Swift, yup. A$AP Rocky, somewhat less likely.

The fickleness of fame? But  more than that, the music industry needs fresh product. A continual need to re-invent, then to package and sell. This year’s crop of winners should enjoy the moment. In five years time, most of them won’t have a career.

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Labour Daze

September 3, 2012 at 2:26 pm (Uncategorized) ()

Probably the last Labour Day event I went to in Toronto was 2001. Maybe.

I had been to an IWW General Assembly in Boston a few weeks earlier, and was handing out some or other piece of IWW literature. I joined the IWW at the urging of my friend Ed of The Bad Days Will End.  A week or so later came the World Trade Center bombings, Ed disappeared and I lost interest in the Toronto branch (actually so did the other members – there is a new branch, but I don’t have any contact with it)

But I used to go every year when I was a Trotskyist. In fact all of the Trotskyist left, (IS, TL, BT, Usec, NSG, etc) made a big deal of selling there. Not sure we ever sold too many copies, and there were always plenty of copies of the leftist littering University Avenue as the march left to make its way to the final day of the Canadian National Exhibition (free entry if you were on the march!)

The march represented that layer of politicized union members who were probably also the NDP foot soldiers in any campaign. An average size march was between 10 and 25,000 depending on what was happening in the outside world. The years when Mike Harris was premier obviously pushed the numbers up, but after the Conservatives replacement with the “labour friendly” Liberals numbers began to drop again.

This year should be up.

In advance of a couple of by-elections this month, the Liberals have decided to re-invent themselves as financial conservatives. They are in the process of passing a wage freeze (and strike ban) on teachers for two years (with possibility of extension), and eying other public servants for the same treatment.

It’s mildly comical though to watch the unions in their role, but also trying  to mouth words of class struggle. At a rally last Tuesday in Toronto, education unions gathered at the front of Queen’s Park to protest government legislation. The tough talk would have been more plausible if the secondary teachers unions OSSTF hadn’t already agreed to the wage freeze and called off its strike votes. But then, the unions aren’t really about class struggle, are they?

Labour Day has been celebrated in Canada since the 1880s,  and actually predates the US adoption.  However, it’s more closely associated as the last weekend of summer. A time to close up the cottage, have a final picnic, fireworks and get the kids ready for the start of school the following day.

Hard times coming round again.

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