Music Notes July 2013

July 30, 2013 at 6:07 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

Ears wide, here we go…

1. The Strypes – Blue Collar Girl EP

I posted about the Strypes a few months back, but they are so good, (in an utterly derivative way) they are worth another plug. Currently touring with the Arctic Monkeys, but perhaps a solo Toronto date sometime…

2. The Liminanas – The Liminanas

This their first album is well worth spending time with. Great French psyche-pop that could have been recorded forty years ago or anytime since.

3. Asia Argento – Total Entropy

Breathy electronica from the Italian actress. Certainly more enjoyable than XXX.

4. The Rough Guide to Psychedelic Bollywood

I don’t like Bollywood cinema. For me the plots are too same-y and the acting contrived (I know, the same argument is also true for western cinema), but the music is fantastic. This set collects some of the downright strange stuff form the 60s, but it’s all essential listening. You can also find this paired with a set of material by composer RD Burman. Recommended.

5. Various artists  – Tres Chic

The successor volume to C’est Chic a collection of ye-ye records from the 1960s.  And I’m happy to report this is every bit as good. My French is just about strong enough to figure out the titles, but it doesn’t matter. Even latter-day fascist Brigitte Bardot’s stuff is great. Get this.

6. The Pet Shop Boys – Pop Art

I hated the Pet Shop Boys. Really I did. Now almost thirty years after “West End Girls” I can listen to it and admit, it’s a pretty good pop song. Hell, this two CD collection is filled with good pop though there are a few duds). Maybe time was all it needed for me to realize it. (I feel the same way about Saturday Night Fever – at the height of punk I loathed it. Let a couple of decades pass and I’ll admit, I not only liked the movie, but the soundtrack wasn’t so bad either).

7. Robin Thicke – “Blurred Lines”

Yeah I know.  At times it comes across as contrived and designed to get people to react: Questionable lyrics and a video with half-naked women  (in one version, and more than half-naked in the other) prancing around. Yeah, yeah, but it doesn’t disguise the fact the song is insanely catchy.

8. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – EP

As a band matures, they change. Often they develop in a direction that alienates their original fan base, or they become caricatures of themselves.  You be the judge if the YYYs suck yet. I don’t think so, but a lot of old fans bailed after the last record. Anyway, I’ve spent a while listening to their first EPs recently if only because I lie the rawness of it.

9. Snatch soundtrack

On the plane back from Italy, I watched Snatch again. Terrific movie and a great soundtrack featuring the Stranglers, Madonna, 10CC, Massive Attack, Oasis,  and more. From the days when people put dialogue from the film on the soundtrack.

10. Glee

I watched the first season of Glee and a few episodes from the second. The first few episodes were sensational TV. Then there was a break, and it was never quite the same. Far too many episodes came off as hand-jobs for whichever musician was featured (Madonna, Britney, Gaga etc). This year my daughter become a fan, so I retained an interest. And it was a shock when Cory Montieth died a few weeks back. Died needlessly, died stupidly.  The first episode of the show where Montieth and co-star Lea Michelle sang Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing ” is a great moment.  That song, surely Journey’s greatest moment (were there others?), is really what music at its best is about: To close your eyes and be lost in that moment.

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Links Update – July 2013

July 29, 2013 at 2:18 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s about time too!

Farewell to a few dead links, but hello Proletarian Democracy. If you’re any part of the left you should get a chuckle out of this.


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Bilan: 20 Thoughts About My Trip to Italy

July 29, 2013 at 2:31 am (Uncategorized)

After a two-week trip to Italy we arrived back in Toronto on last Tuesday. So, after a few days of getting over jet-lag and ruminating on the Wizard of Oz tag line “there’s no place like home,” it seemed like a good idea to draw a bit of a balance sheet on the experience. Call it coincidence, but as I was making my list, I came across this quotation from an Eric Ambler character in Background to Danger cited in an essay by Greil Marcus, The Mask of Dimitrious (another Ambler title):

People come over here [Europe] for a fortnight’s holiday and they see a lot of pretty chalets and châteaux Schlosser and say what a fine place it is to live. they don’t know what they’re talking about. They see only the top coat.

So with that thought in mind, I offer the following highly subjective observations about things I saw or learnt in Italy.

1. Life in a History Book.

I may be slightly exaggerating, but everything here in Toronto looks as if it was built after 1960. Imagine then, my reaction to walking into an art history book. I experienced something of this a few years back when I was in Belgium, but in Italy the feeling was even stronger. I gasped audibly as we drove from the train station in Firenze at the first sight of the cathedral. At the Acadamia gallery in Firenze, David leaves you with a sense of awe. It’s quite incredible. When we were in the countryside in Tuscany I kept muttering “How can people get anything done here?” (I must have said it quite a few time as my teenage daughter would say, “Dad, how many times are you going to say that?” in an exasperated tone only a teen can manage). I suppose you get used to it, but to be used to such loveliness is rather sad.

2. And Speaking of History

After touring several museums and art galleries, I realized I knew far less about Italian history that I wanted. Sure, sure, I knew my Roman history as well as the 20th century stuff, but that left some fairly large holes. There’s nothing like travel to make you feel intellectually inadequate.

3. The Food

I guess the lesson I learned is that olive oil makes everything taste better. Mashed potatoes with olive oil! Soup with olive oil! Bread with olive oil. Everyone i spoke to about this trip, said, “Oh the food; oh the wine.” And they were right. The food is pretty fantastic. Somewhat oddly though, nutella and fanta seemed to available everywhere.

4. Gelato

On the plane coming home, we were served ice cream for dessert. It was pretty good, but I nudged my son and said, “It’s not gelato though, is it?” He agreed. Our plan to eat our weight in gelato failed miserably, but you can’t say we didn’t try. The best gelato I ate was at a place called La Strega Nocciola on the south side of the Arno river.  But the thing is, with gelato, like pizza, even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.

5. Cappuccino

Apparently, it’s only for breakfast. It never happened to me, but I read of people who were refused service for ordering it in the evening (I had already been warned you see)

6. Napkins

Don’t put them on your plate after the food is finished. It means the meal was unsatisfactory. In Rome, I had a tremendous meal and unaware of the custom did just that. The hostess asked me about the meal, and then informed me of the significance of the napkin. I apologized profusely and we probably gave a bigger tip. So, now I know.

7. Tipping

But here’s a mystery. The guide books all said, “Tipping is not automatic and not expected.” But who’s going to turn down money, and personally I find it very difficult not to tip. Many restaurants added a service charge to the bill. One came with two plates. One for the bill, and one for the tip.

8. Styling

Looking out of our apartment window one morning, my wife and I saw a guy who looked to be in his eighties walking along the street dressed in a brown jacket and shoes and …pink trousers. But, you know, he pulled it off. We got a lovely leather bag for my daughter, so now she can say, “Oh this thing? Just something I picked up in Italy.”

9. Traffic

But of course, there’s a downside. Driving or walking in Italy is a gigantic game of chicken. Nature abhors a vacuum and so do motorists in Italy it seems. One of the most terrifying rides of my life was the taxi to the train station in Firenze. I was sure that if we weren’t going to be killed, someone else’s life blood would be on the ground.  I can’t generalize about the rest of the country but the abundance of one-way streets in Rome ad Firenze seem to encourage this (but before you cross make sure there’s no a cyclist coming the wrong way). It’s a little like being in New York: watch the cars not the lights my friends told me; watch the lights and you’ll be killed.

10. Museum Guards.

Based on my small sample, museum guards in Italy seem to fall into one of two categories

1. Guards who never look up from their smart phones. I saw several guards who never took their eyes off their phones the entire time I was in the room. I think I could have walked off with a painting or two.

2. Guards who are super-zealous. I witnessed at least three guards yelling (and I mean yelling) at patrons for transgressions – to be fair one of them actually stroked a painting at the Ufizi.

11. The Medicis

Based on what I know of the Medicis, it seems they were bastards. Then they were driven out and came back as bigger bastards. Then they ran out of money, but when they came back again, they were even bigger bastards. They did like the arts though. I’m thinking of changing my name to Andrew Medici. It has a ring.

12. Thank you

Grazi is actually pronounced GHRAT-seeay not GRAT-see

13. Litter

Despite the number of tourists, despite the number of dogs, despite the fact you can apparently drink on the street, Firenze:

a. Is generally free of litter

b. Has hardly any dog shit on the streets (unlike Paris or Toronto)

c. Has little public drunkenness (unlike London)

14. Beggars

Maybe there’s a law against homelessness, but I saw very few stationary beggars. I did see plenty of moving panhandlers staking their plastic cups, but very few sitting. Do the police arrest you if you’re sitting?

15. Pisolino

This mad dog Englishman learn’t something. You really shouldn’t go out in the mid-day sun. Oh, it wasn’t a painful lesson. But it was probably after walking around Rome the first day we were there and sweating off pounds, we realized: get up early; have a nap in the middle of the day; go out later. You’ll live longer (and the crowds are smaller)

16. Music

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to delve into local music scenes which was a shame. I assume that both Rome ad Firenze have good local bands, but every time I turned on the radio it seemed as if they were playing US or UK pop from the 1980s.

17. Grappa

Have you ever had grappa? I’m not a big wine person (I know very little about it), but hey, Italian wine is excellent and it’s cheap. So I drank wine. Grappa is made from the skins. It’s about 45% proof. It sneaks up on you, I’ll tell you that.

18. The Communist Left

The political tradition to which I belong is sometimes called the communist left (or left communism). The left communists were those who were part of currents expelled from the Communist International in the early 1920s. The communist left is usually considered to have two distinct wigs: The German-Dutch and the Italians. Both had strengths; both had weaknesses. (The latest issue of Internationalist Perspective has an article assessing our relationship to the tradition) The Italian tradition is little know outside of Italy and little has been translated. Often the current is dismissed as “Bordigist.” Do yourself a favour and get that ICC book I mentioned previously. There is some of Bordiga’s stuff available and the collection murdering the Dead is worth reading.

19. The Old and the New

The number of restaurants that advertised “we have air-conditioning” quickly led us to realize that this meant it was an oddity. Italy is ultra-modern in some aspects, but the iron in the apartment we rented looked as if it came off of some ’50s SF show (or the Jetsons). It’s an interesting clash to say the least.

20. So Many People

Of course, with all of this great stuff, there’s a price. And that would be tourists. They (we?) are like locusts. Swarming everywhere. Masses of people crowd every square; line-ups at every exhibit. Apparently there is no off-season in Firenze any more. Still, if you get up early, book ahead and are prepared to wait, it’s worth it.  I went for a walk most evenings, and if you just want to stand in the square and appreciate the beauty of the cathedral, that’s the time to do it.

So then, when you go on holiday, you want to have bragging rights. When I went to PEI, people said that’s nice. When I went to Ottawa, people asked why. Italy. Everyone knew.

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The Wonderful Horrible Life of Chris Spence

July 26, 2013 at 5:56 pm (Uncategorized)

For those of you who don’t live in Toronto, Chris Spence is the former director of education with the Toronto District School Board. In January of this year, Spence abruptly resigned his position after it came to light that several articles he had published in the Toronto Star and elsewhere were….um… not entirely original. Lovely:  The spectacle of the head of the school board resigning after being caught plagiarizing material is fairly rich.  The worse case was Spence wrote of explaining to his son about the shooting in New Town in words very close to ones that had already appeared in the St. Louis 
Dispatch. I don’t believe in Hell, but if there is one, Spence ought to go straight there for that one.

So, after six long months, Spence has finally broken his silence to describe the “living hell” he went through after he got caught. Well, it turns out that while Spence has taken ownership of the scandal, to use a current term, it wasn’t his fault. Spence after noting he wasn’t pointing fingers, proceeded to point fingers at unnamed researchers who he implied had written the stories (it doesn’t quite explain the New Town story though, unless he didn’t even read it before signing it).

So, essentially, the argument boils down to this, and it’s one that might make teachers smile: Oh I didn’t plagiarise anything. It must have been the kid who did my homework. Teachers: watch for this one come September.


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RBG Blues

July 26, 2013 at 5:33 pm (Uncategorized)

I wasn’t going to, I really wasn’t. Oh, it’s just too easy to take shots at Royal Baby George (hereafter RBG) to say his mum had a really bad case of constipation (it took her nine months to have a shit), but I decided to take the high road and ignore it. (I’m so glad I wasn’t in the UK when RBG arrived though).

Then came the inevitable editorial in the Toronto Globe and Mail which contained this little gem in a July 23 editorial:

Canadians who are offended that a child is born into the rank and privilege of the monarchy should remember the extent to which their own lives are defined by where they are born and who their parents are. For many of us, to be born in Canada is a tremendous privilege

The following day though, an op-ed column by Konrad Yakabuski on Detroit centred on public sector pensions as a major cause of the city’s bankruptcy. Looks as if the tremendous privilege of living in Canada is about to become a little less tremendous. Thank god we have a royal baby to take our collective minds off of it.

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Firenze: I Visit a Church

July 21, 2013 at 9:13 am (Uncategorized) (, )

We visited the Santa Croce church yesterday, and neither my wife or I burst into flames. Still, maybe that’s not for Hindus and atheists, but if we were former Catholics who knows. On a related note, I wonder what the vampire population of Firenze is. It’s sunny all the time. And wasn’t twilight filmed in Tuscany (the second movie?). I digress, but I haven’t seen any goths here.

Anyway, the church is beautiful. Built in the 13th century, it is the final resting place for heavy hitters Galileo, michelangelo, and Machiavelli. Dante is buried elsewhere , but has a memorial in the church. Quite interesting too is the collection of art and the underground areas near the courtyard. remarkable too is the restoration after the flood of 1966.

Say what you like about organized religion,it knows something about presentation. After the need for it is gone, I hope the buildings main. As a reminder of times past, but also as a testimony to the creativity of our species.

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July 20, 2013 at 7:13 am (Uncategorized) ()

We went to the Galileo Museum yesterday. Fascinating.

Two things jumped out.

It is such a temptation not to touch the exhibits as many of them cry out to be played with – actually, at the end of the tour, there is an interactive display. Something for the small child in all of us.

second, everyone has heard that the middle finger of Galileo’s right hand is on display (we marvelled at its length) . It seemed appropriate that it was the middle finger too: You think the sun revolves around the earth? Fuck you!

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My Encounter with the Italian Left

July 20, 2013 at 7:04 am (Uncategorized) (, )

One of the reasons people travel is to see new or different things. So what would a trip to Italy be without meeting representatives of the Italian left?

if that sounds flip, it shouldn’t. The Italian left in its many forms has a long-standing tradition, even if, in my opinion, it has not lived up to it.

The tradition is little known outside of Italy except through Lenin’s screed Left-wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder. In it, Lenin castigated the Italian and the Dutch- German lefts for their opposition to his ideas. After their expulsion  from the Communist International, both trends underwent political evolutions while ignoring each other: the Italians saw the Germans as anarchists, while they were viewed at leninists. In truth, both had something to learn from the other. (The ICC has published two quite excellent books on this subject and history, and are recommended.)

But enough history. I met with comrades of the International Communist Party for a short chat at their office. We talked about the origins of Internationalist Perspective and. its evolution, their party, the unions, the party and the process of revolution. There wasn’t much agreement between us.

The ICP has a theory they refer to as invariance. Essentially, they hold that Marx and his followers have completed the communist programme and that the task of the PARTY is to win people to it.  To my mind, this has more in common with religious propaganda than Marxism. I argued that the world in which Marx wrote was a different one than today, but got little track. It was important for them that they were consistent with Marx and Lenin. And there is a logical consistency to their ideas, but they are wrong. IP recently published the first part of a major article on our relationship to the communist left which can be found on our web site.

language problems prevented a fuller discussion; I probably came across as an anarchist, they as more Leninist. I’ll likely return to this point later.

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The Firenze Art Gallery Experience

July 18, 2013 at 11:29 am (Uncategorized)

Why do people come to Italy? Well, part of it is the art. So, it as to the art gallery we went.

Everyone and I do mean everyone advised us to make reservations for the two big exhibits, the Uffizi and the Acadamia. For an extra 4 € you can essentially skip the wait line and more or less walk straight into the museum (in the summer, that can mean savin three  hours in line)

The Uffizi is a huge task. The tour book I bought said to allow two hours,  but it doesn’t really scrape the surface (plus of course, you can only absorb so much at a time). Still, the museum has some tremendous sights.  The Birth of Venus and Spring are stunning. I’m no expert on art, but you can really see the function of religion in everyday life; just how important, how all-encompassing the church was.

The Academia is essentially David. Oh sure, there’s other cool stuff too see, but the reason we all go is David. When you see it, you know why. It’s an incredible sight. The statue is at the end of a row of other statues, but as you turn the corner there it is in the distance. Waiting for you. I think I took three long looks over the course of my visit.

Note to self: pick up book on the history of Florence.

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July 16, 2013 at 7:49 am (Uncategorized)

So now we’re in Firenze (Florence).  we arrived on Sunday and I gasped as we sighted the  duomo (cathedral). We’re staying in a little apartment in Santa Croce district.

Wandered into the centre yesterday, and stopped by the Bargello Museum. The Bargello is a former prison now converted into a museum. The museum has some stunning pieces including works by Donatello, Verrocchio and Michelangelo.

Later, we walked by the duomo. It’s  truly breath-taking.

In the afternoon we walked around a local church and a leather school. On the way back to our apartment, I ran into a guy selling Lotta Communista. He spoke no English; I spoke no Italian. Sinistre communista I said. We shook hands.  Oh the people you’ll meet.

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