Let’s Pretend It’s 1977 Again

February 28, 2014 at 4:01 pm (Uncategorized)

I missed the initial blast of fresh air that was punk through accidents of age and geography. 

I was 12 years old in 1976 which meant I was starting to take music seriously, but was not quite aware: I hadn’t discovered John Peel and the New Musical Express were still two years away. I also lived in Grove, a town near Wantage, itself thirty minutes outside of Oxford. In any event, Oxford was not London or Manchester or any of the hubs of punk. The town I lived in much less so.

So, I read about punk before I heard it, and I heard it long before I saw it live. The first band I saw was the Stranglers in 1979 when the toured with the Raven (their fourth album!). I did see Stiff Little Fingers and Adam and the Ants the following, but it when they were already established. 1977 was something I experienced thought newspaper headlines, Top of the Pops and the occasional song on the radio. But I was almost there.

By the time I moved to Canada in 1981, I’d seen a few bands, but I was reading the music press and my singles collection was growing. (My dad helped me stencil the Crass logo onto my jacket – funnily enough, the only other band kids at my school had on their backs was Rush).  

And so it goes.

Thirty years on and though many of those punk bands imploded within a year or two or moved onto another form, others still play. Lee Brilleaux of Dr. Feelgood once asked his critics why don’t people get on at classical musicians, how come you’re still playing Beethoven? Why don’t you play some new stuff? Of course, Brilleaux was playing new stuff, just like the Strypes today (who are themselves heavily influenced by the Feelgoods)

Still, that’s a little different to go and see people who are still performing their own songs, and particularly in a medium like punk. In general there are two reasons why people still go to see bands now into their third decade of performing, in most cases long past their prime.

1. It’s the first time. I saw Buzzcocks, Gang of Four, the Avengers, Steve Ignorant, the Rezillos and probably a few others after they had broken up and reformed to tour the hits. I really wanted to hear those songs. They were great shows, but I also have nothing to compare them to.

2. Nostalgia. My twenties were great. I was at university. The musci i listened to was fantastic etc. etc. But it’s an illusion. First of all , you can never go home. Those moments are products of specific time and selective memory (how many of us have dug out a movei or a record and realized, it wasn’t anywhere near as good as we remembered – you can’t stand in the same river twice). Chasing nostalgia is like the junkie seeking that proverbial first high. You’ll never find it.

Which, after a long preamble, brings me to the subject of this post: Last Friday, I went to see the Forgotten Rebels at Lee’s Palace.

 I must have first seen the Forgotten Rebels in late 1983 or early 1984. I saw them open for the Cramps at the Concert Hall in 1984, but I remember that wasn’t the first time to see them. Wow. That’s thirty years ago. After that, I must have seen them at least a dozen time,. but probably the last was at a New Year’s show at the El Mo circa 1990. (Johnny Thunders was playing upstairs, and he died in 1993 – I saw him a year of so before he died, and there was another legend whose past was dishonoured by his present). I’d seen the Dik van Dykes (another band from my youth) just before New Year’s, so I thought why not?

Missed the Cola Heads and the Noble Savages were just finishing their set as I arrived. A band to check out further, although it struck me as strange as all four band members were shirtless (was that a theme?)

The Forgotten Rebels came on stage a little after midnight. The band have been for many years Mickey DeSadist, and whomever he has playing with him. And Mickey, no longer rail thin, but with as much personality as ever.

Yes, it was great to hear all the hits again, including my favourite Rebels song “I think of her.” The set list drew heavily from the early records, National Unity, In Love with the System and This Ain’t Hollywood, but so what, that’s what people want isn’t it? In the same way, and this is not a comparrison, when Mick Jagger announces, “This is our new single,” no one really gets too excited – they’re there to hear “Satisfaction.”

But I’ll confess to feeling a little hollow. Maybe it was me. Certainly the audience enjoyed the show. Although the demographic was odd – lots of old guys with beer guts and bald spots, along with kids who seemed barely old enough to get into the show, and who were born long after the Rebels formed. 

I suppose it might be the difficulty of reconciling the rebellion of punk, the smash-the-system, fuck-the-old ways with becoming established, but it seemed I had gone to the show with the wrong mindset. I left before what I’m sure was the last song, “Surfin on Heroin.”

Should bands like the Rebels go gently into that good night like the Stones or the Who? It’s not a question I can answer. If people still get a kick out of it, if the band still like doing it, who am I to say no? But, it should be recognized for what it is. In “My Generation” Daltrey sang, “Hope I die before I get old.” The better formulation though is “Hope I live before I get old.”

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Music Notes: February 2014

February 27, 2014 at 11:46 pm (Uncategorized)

Here we go then…

1. Big Star – Nothing Can Hurt Me

I confess I haven’t seen the movie, but the soundtrack is a treasure trove for Big Star fans, er fanatics. 21 previously unreleased versions of classic songs like “In the Street,” “Thirteen” and “September Gurls.” Demos, alternative mixes and a few mixes from 2012. If you’re new to Big Star’s blend of American pop and Beatlesque sounds, maybe this isn’t the place to begin (pick up the first two records), but for those of us who are already admirers, this will do very nicely thank you.

2. September Girls – “Heartbeat /Wasted”

Irish garage shoegazers make beautiful noise – listen at their bandcamp page.

3. Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas

Two releases in one. You don’t want to use adjectives like quirky, but it does convey a certain sound in this Australian singer-songwriter’s work. Over to her site now Released in North America in April.

4. Angel Olson – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

My favourite record this week. Folk, rock, Leonard Cohen. I really can’t describe this; just listen to it.

5. Uncle Tupelo – Anodyne

Uncle Tupelo are in the news again because of the legacy edition of their first album No Depression, which contains among other treats the ND demos and the band’s early cassettes.   Still, for my money, Anodyne is the band’s most realized vision; a perfect balance between country and rock, and between Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting talents. Alas, the delicate balance was unable to survive and  Son Volt and Wilco were the result. This is simply beautiful work.

6. Dean Wareham – Emancipated Hearts EP

Came out last year, but if you didn’t get it, it serves as a nice reminder of his talent and a lead in to the new album coming in March. One whine about the album though. I his quite amazing book Black Postcards, Wareham complains about digital music. Fair enough, but the new album comes as an i-tunes release with an exclusive song. C’mon Dean. I love you, but are you trying to have your cake and eat it too.

7. Dr. Feelgood – Oil City Confidential

The third of Julian Temple’s film about mb (the others being about the Sex Pistols and Joe Strummer). This time, the “best local band in the world,”  Dr.  Feelgood. A fantastic retelling of the Feelgood’s story up to the almost breakthrough and Wilco’s departure. Fascinating stuff. The DVD comes with extra Wilco stuff and the entire interview with Lee Brilleaux.

8. Public Enemy – It’ll Take a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

Hadn’t listened to this in ages, but was thumbing through stuff the other day and came across it. Bang! It’s one of those incendiary records like Bollocks or the first Velvets’ that time cannot dim the impact. Stunning.

9. James Murphy – Subway Symphony

The former LCD Soundsystem leader has a plan to add music to New York’s subways. You can even sign a petitiotn

Nine because it’s February (Sorry – I thought this was funny last year, and I guess I still do)

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Being a Dad (part 6): The Movies

February 24, 2014 at 1:58 am (Uncategorized)

Took my son to see The Lego Movie this afternoon.

Initially, the boy was too cool to see the movie, and I was puzzled. First, it’s a movie and the boy will see pretty much anything. Second, it’s Lego, and the boy loves Lego and has a couple of Lego video games.

Eventually, he changed his ind and I learned why. He thought it was a movie for younger kids, and thought maybe he was too old for it. But after a school friend told him it was a great film, he changed his mind.

And yeah, I loved it too. I laughed all the way through (“Dad, I think you liked the movie more than I did”) . Why not, the portrayal of Batman as a narcissistic jerk is brilliant. Sure, sure, the movie is fairly traditional in its morality take about how every one is special, but the sheer energy and humour in the film… It’s wonderful.

I remember the first time I went to the movies. It was around 1970. My dad took me to see Jungle Book with my cousin Richard and his dad. I was six. It’s a great moment, the first time. But the magic lingers.

So to the guy down the aisle from me who spent half the movie scrolling on his phone and even made a call while his little kids fussed around, “Buddy, it’s not about you and your important life. It’s about your kids. I can’t even really think you’re a jerk, because, ultimately, you’re missing out. ”

Take your kids to a movie and enjoy the film with them. It’s worth it.


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About the Situation in Ukraine (Links)

February 23, 2014 at 5:33 pm (Uncategorized)

Couple of interesting pieces about situation in Ukraine.

Statement about the Situation in Ukraine – Autonomous Workers Union (Feb 19, 2014)

Interview with a Ukrainian Revolutionary Syndicalist (Feb 20, 2014 also on AWU site)

Finally, a discussion on Lib com






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Two Stories about Pete Seeger

February 20, 2014 at 2:49 am (Uncategorized)

I’m not a regular reader of Rolling Stone, but the latest issue is worth looking at. For one thing it has a moving feature about the late Philip Seymour Hoffman – yes, it’s the issue with Hoffman on the cover which caused Drake to have a hissy fit about “his” cover being given to Hoffman.

But the more interesting piece is Mikal Gilmore’s article on Pete Seeger. Two stories in particular:

In September 1949, Seeger played a civil rights benefit with Paul Robeson in Peekskill, New York. After the show, a mob attacked attendees and performers alike. Seeger drove away with his young children in the car as rocks smashed his windows. His friend Lee Hayes later asked, “What is it in the people’s songs of Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger…to inspire this savagery, this hatred.”

Two decades later, Seeger played a show in Beacon, New york. After the show, a young man came up to Seeger and extended his hand to Seeger. As he did so, he told Seeger, “I think I should tell you, I came here this afternoon to kill you.” Seeger was apparently so startled (who wouldn’t be?) all he could say initially was “thank you.” Apparently the man was a soldier who had lost friends in Vietnam, and believed Seeger was a traitor. But, as he watched the show, saw how the crowd reacted, he lost that anger. “I feel cleansed,” he told Seeger.

The full story is in the February 27 issue of Rolling Stone.




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The Return of Super Mayor!

February 16, 2014 at 8:27 pm (Uncategorized)

OK, I live in Toronto. A city that used to imagine it was New York run by the Swiss – hardly true, but people can dream. Still, whenever I mentioned I was from Toronto, most people had a fairly positive image of the city. (“clean” and “safe”) These days, the question is “What’s with that Rob Ford?”

Yes, indeed. What IS with that Rob Ford. For those who don’t watch late night TV or read newspapers, Rob Ford is the former suburban councillor who ran for mayor on a cut-the-gravy-train /lower-taxes-for-the-little-guy platform (more of a mantra really). And despite his clownish past behaviour (drunkenly abusing patrons at the Air Canada Centre, denying he was there, then admitting it – actually, now that I think about it , that’s Ford’s MO), he was elected. Handily.

Since then however, Ford’s personality and embarrassing list of colourful achievements have made him an international laughing-stock as Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor. There were allegations of drunken behaviour, groping female councilors and most infamously smoking crack with suspected drug dealers (who else would you smoke crack with?). Ford denied it all

Until…Police chief Bill Blair confirmed the existence of a video. At this point, Ford fessed up. Yes, he had smoked crack but he hadn’t lied about it because the media had actually asked him that (they had, but hey). And finally, in a completely out of the blue moment, Ford denied he had ever wanted to eat a co-worker’s “pussy” noting, in what he appeared to think was a moment of wit, “I have plenty to eat at home.”

And then silence. A few interviews in which Ford adopted a semi-repentant tone. He was no longer drinking – that was over. He had apologized. What more could he do?

Yes, yes, there were suspicions Ford did not declare a state of emergency during the December ice storm because he would no longer be in charge, (Ford had lost that right earlier in the year – he could declare a SOE, but then power passes to his executive committee) but nothing really to speak of.

And then it began again,. A video surfaced from an Etobicoke restaurant where Ford swayed drunkenly speaking in a slurred Jamaican patois cursing the police chief. Shortly after his brother Doug denied Ford was drinking again, Ford admitted he was, but suggested since it was on his own time, it was his business (so much for the suggestion he was done with drinking). Parenthetically, we should all have a brother as loyal as Doug Ford. Brother Rob could run down the street butt naked with a gun in one hand and a big bag of crack in the other, and Doug would blame the liberal media.

Last week he admitted he had lied abut not lying because he was embarrassed about it. Also last week, Ford got a ticket for jay-walking in Vancouver and saw allegations surface he was served alcohol after hours in a bar there .

Not to be outdone, this week Ford has called for a rainbow flag flying at city Hall in Toronto to be taken down and replaced by another Canadian flag. Ford also announced he would not be attending the World Pride events this summer because he ” couldn’t change who he is. Er…what?

It seems Ford is going after the homophobic vote, which might not be a good idea given the size of the city’s gay and lesbian community.  And moreover, wasn’t that a fight that ended decades ago? Gays and lesbians are…well, just as boring as straight people.

My wife believes that these little pieces are actually Ford’s strategy of staying in the public eye – a sort of buffoonish version of Wilde’s notion that the only thing worse than being talking about.,

I’m almost convinced that Ford’s antics are some sort of wacky performance art piece. Despite his self-made man persona, he was born into money so he doesn’t really need to work. Maybe he’s in a decade long version of an Office-type program.

So the great hope now is moderate conservative, failed Tory party leader and ex-Mayoralty candidate John Tory or possibly Olivia Chow. My only experience of Ms. Chow is at an anti-war rally a few years back. I was there with my four-year old and Chow and her husband, Jack Layton, came through the crowd. Olivia glanced at the boy and whispered, “so cute.” Good taste, but not yet a policy.

Of course, Ford is an unpleasant bully with a substance abuse problem. And that’s what makes his backers nervous. They see the agenda which Ford stands for going down with him. Sure Chow or Tory would superficially be different to Ford (OK, in terms of public fuck-ups probably substantially different), but would the underlying agenda be fundamentally different?  I’m going to say that under a Tory or Chow regime, or hell, under a Ford one, things would largely continue to go in the same way. Vanilla, Chocolate or Strawberry. It’s not much of a choice.

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No More Mister Nice Girl: Maggie Estep

February 13, 2014 at 3:26 am (Uncategorized)

Heard today about the loss of  poet, author and musician Maggie Estep. Her sudden passing at the age of 50 following complications from a heart attack is pretty shocking.Too soon, too soon.

I went to the collection and pulled out the only CD of hers I own, No More Mister Nice Girl.  Overall the record has aged well. The stuff I didn’t like much, I still don’t like, but the inspired stuff, “Hey Baby”, “Car Guy”, “Fuck Me”, “Rip Trip Strip”, and “Bad Day at the Beauty Salon” still sound great. Oh and there’s a fantastic shot of Estep on the cover with a “Fuck with me, I dare you” expression on her face.

Here’s the video for her most famous recording, “Hey Baby” which features John S. Hall from King Missile



Hey Baby

Liner Notes – (from No More Mister Nice Girl)

I was having a foul day. Some geezer harrassed me on the street and I got completely bent out of shape, but the guy was huge so I just stuffed my retort. Went home to drink coffee. No milk. I ripped through the cupboards and found Non Dairy Creamer. It tasted like shit. I got into one of those senseless rages where you throw stuff. I hurled the Non Dairy Creamer and it fell into the tub where I was running some bath water. The creamer erupted and made this bathing gel of Non Dairy Creamer. I was ready to kill myself. Instead I wrote Hey Baby.

So I’m walking down the street
minding my own business
when this guy starts with me
he’s suckin’ his lips goin’
Hey Baby
Yo Baby
Hey Baby

and I get a little tense and nervous
but I keep walking
but the guy, he’s dogging my every move
hey Miss, he says,
Don’t miss this!
And he grabs his crotch and sneers ear to ear
so finally, I turn around
Hey Buddy, I say
I’m feelin’ kinda tense, Buddy
I got a fuckin’ song in my heart
so come on,
Let’s go

I got a huge bucket of non-dairy creamer
and some time to kill
so let’s do it
we’ll make some foul-smelling artifical milk
and drink gallons and gallons and gallons of it

Get our bladders exceedingly full then
sit on the toilet together and let
the water run in the shower
and torture ourselves by not letting ourselves urinate
as the water rushes loudly
into the bathrub, okay?

We’ll do it together
writhe in utter agony
Just you and me
and I’ll even spring for some of that blue shit
for the toilet bowl, all right?
I mean, that’s my idea of a good time
so how bout it, you wanna?

The guy backs up a bit
Whatsa matter, Baby?
You got somethin’ against men?, he says
No, I say
I don’t have anything against men
Just STUPID men

Maggie Estep

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Mark Twain on Why We’re Here

February 12, 2014 at 6:25 pm (Uncategorized)

This quotation from Mark Twain arrived in my inbox this morning courtesy of Skeptics magazine’s weekly newsletter in an article about intelligent design. Worth sharing. It reminded me of that graphic about the ascent of man from ape to upright human Richard Dawkins hates so much because it posits an intelligent path to where we are. (Which is not to suggest that’s Twain’s intent here) Evolution isn’t a design. It just is.

“Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is. I dunno. If the Eiffel tower were now representing the world’s age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man’s share of that age; and anybody would perceive that that skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would, I dunno.”

—Mark Twain, “Was the World Made for Man?” 1903

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Platypus Society Forum: The Politics of Work (Audio Link) on Work

February 6, 2014 at 12:45 am (Uncategorized) ()

Last week on a bitterly cold night, I spoke at a Platypus Society forum on the Politics of Work representing Internationalist Perspective. Approximately 25 people came out to hear differing perspectives on work.

My c0-panelists were L Susan Brown author of  the 1993 book The Politics of Individualism and the article “Does Work Really Work?” Dave Bush from the Rank and File project, and Sam Ginden, a former Canadian Autoworkers staffer.

While my three co-panelists looked to what I consider to be solutions within capitalism, I tried to link the politics of work to a broader critique of the value-form.

To hear whether or not I was successful, you can listen to the audio here (but you can skip to the good part at the 33 minute mark!).

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Philip Seymour Hoffman

February 3, 2014 at 1:37 pm (Uncategorized)

The death yesterday, apparently from a heroin overdose, of Philip Seymour Hoffman is a deep loss.

Hoffman was an exceptionally talented individual. Unlike many “movie stars” who essentially play themselves or a variant of such in each of their films, Hoffman was a gifted actor capable of playing different characters convincingly. Seldom a leading man, he possessed no “movie star” good looks, Hoffman played supporting characters who often were as  memorable than the leads.

That he was found sitting on a toilet in his underwear, a syringe in his arm only underscores the loss. An entirely preventable one. Hoffman’s friend, playwright David Bar Katz commented,

“I saw him last week, and he was clean and sober, his old self. I really thought this chapter was over.”

And sadly now it is.

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