Link Updates

March 31, 2014 at 2:01 pm (Uncategorized)

I added a couple of new links to the blogroll:

Red Wedge Magazine

The Chagall Position



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Music Notes March 2014

March 30, 2014 at 10:05 pm (Uncategorized)

Here we are then.

1. Wilko Johnson / Roger Daltrey – Going Back Home

Wilko’s last album, blah, blah, blah. That’s not important. What is important is that this is a collaboration between an amazing singer and an equally amazing guitarist. It takes a little getting used to hearing Daltrey’s vocals on some of the tracks, , and for my money the production is a little too clean, but there’s a warmth and a love of rock and roll that this record exudes that’s unbeatable. A joy to hear.

2. The Strypes – Snapshot

From the other end of the spectrum then. The debut album by four Irish lads who’ve spent a lot of time listening to the early Stones, Yardbirds, Pretty Things, Dr. Feelgood, Eddie and the Hot Rods etc  and have come up with something quite wonderful.  Tasteful covers and inspiring originals, but it all honesty, live is how you want to hear these songs.

3. Quadrophenia

Saw this again this month. I think I saw this on TV in the early eighties, and no doubt missed a lot of it. (who knows what was cut out). I read somewhere mod purists find a lot of complain about in it, but it’s still a fascinating portrait of a subculture and a youth who is slowly falling apart (great soundtrack too). Oh, and the ending is different from what I remember too. Get the Criterion edition. It’s worth it.

4. Dean Wareham – Dean Wareham

Mentioned the EP last month. Here’s the full length album. Similar to a lot of Wareham’s work, the songs are slow but burn with intensity. If you’re a fan, you already know. Can’t wait until the show next week. Horseshoe Tavern April 9.

5. The Black Keys – “Fever”

I imagine more than a few people will be surprised by the sound of this. A much poppier, less bluesier sound, but fueled by a completely addictive organ riff. The album is out May 12.

6. The Small Faces – “All or Nothing ”

In last month’s Mojo, there’s a Small Faces and friends CD including a remastered version of this little classic. Go get it

7.  The New Mendicants – Into the Lime

Ex Teenage Fanclub + Ex Pernice Brother= fab pop. You be the judge (although here’s a clue- yes)

8.  These New Puritans – Field of Reeds

If you liked the first two TNP albums (as I did), this one is a bit of a shock. Less a collection of songs than a sound spread across a recording. My daughter commented that it sounded like a soundtrack – she might be right. There’s a moodiness, an ambiance, which is impossible to digest in a single meal. Very ambitious, very challenging, and certainly worth exploring.

9. Mudhoney – “Touch Me I’m Sick”

Ooh, is it too early to complain about the licensing of this song for PS4?

10. Dick Hebdige – Subculture

Not a record, not a film, but a book. Not even about music, but about culture, specifically subculture. Subtitled the meaning of style. Isn’t all music about style? About subculture? Anyway, an old book dating to the 70s, but very insightful. Have a read.

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Socialism and Barber-ism

March 30, 2014 at 4:50 pm (Uncategorized)

I was temped to make a joke about poor Korean translations of Rosa Luxemburg, but the stories this week about Kim Jong Un ordering North Koreans to get government-approved “socialist haircuts” which were suspiciously like his seemed better than any lame puns I could invent (OK, maybe not the title of this post)

No sooner had the stories circulated than they were denied, and we all thought, ah, “North Korea is so wacky, it could be true, but I guess it’s not.” Except…

In 2004-2005, North Korea did wage a campaign entitled “Let us trim our hair in accordance with Socialist lifestyle” on Korean television.  Apparently, the gist was that hair length affects intelligence because the body is deprived of nutrients due to hair length. Certainly funnier than allegedly having your uncle fed to a pack of starving dogs I guess.

What say you Proletarian Democracy?

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The Strypes at the Mod Club

March 27, 2014 at 4:44 pm (Uncategorized)

Two months back, the Strypes played their first North American  show at Lee’s Palace: One of the best shows I had seen in a long time. So, when I heard they were returning to Toronto, this time at the Mod Club, (I’m sorry I can’t bring myself to say the Virgin Mod Club), I knew where I would be March 22.

I knew the show was an early one, but it still seemed a bit weird arriving at the club in daylight. Last time out I complained that there was no merch table, but the $30 price on t-shirts didn’t thrill me this time. I’m still looking for the deluxe version of their debut Snapshot with the band’s cover of the Coasters’ “I’m a Hog for you baby, ” but I digress.

Sam Cash and the Romantic Dogs (sorry, I don’t get it) were up first. They played a catchy power-pop rock that was immediately attractive, but whose appeal tended to fade over the course of the set. The slower numbers in particular didn’t work for me. Still, they were tight musically and the audience responded well to them, so maybe it was me eager for the main attraction.

And what to say about the Strypes? They used to talk about the Who’s sound as Maximum R & B, but that’s not a bad description for the Strypes either. Pulling in early Stones, Dr. Feelgood and the energy of punk, they make a fearsome muscial medley. I want also to make a plug for much-maligned pub rock here as an anteceedent: Eddie and the Hot Rods, who made the mistakes of being just a little too early for punk and wore flares when it was no longer fashionalbe, but contributed a fantastic sound and a classic tune, “Do Anything you Wanna Do.”

The Strypes played for a little over an hour tearing through their debut album and a choice selection of covers (Coasters, Lew Lewis, Bo Diddley and probably a few I’ve missed), and ended with a one song encore.  I’ll employ the whole rock-and-roll is-like-sex metaphor  to suggest the show began with a lot of excitement and anticipation, built throughout and climaxed (oops!) with a wonder where you didn’t know if ecstacy or a heart attack was on the horizen.  

And yet…I’m not sure if it was because it was the second time I’d seen them in as many months or it was that familiarity breeds contempt, but the Lee’s show as better. The band seemed to be having more fun, there was more banter from the stage and the set was longer. Dunno.

Ah, forget it.

Rather than being petty, let’s end on a positive note and say that regardless of those little digs, the Strypes are a fantasic live band. Their album Snapshot is one of those records that no matter the volume there’s a voice in your head which says it would be better louder, and that voice is right; but you still need to experience them live to get the full effect.

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Random Dog Picture #5

March 20, 2014 at 3:04 pm (Uncategorized)

In a thoughtful moment.


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It’s Comic Book Wednesday!

March 19, 2014 at 6:39 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

Following Sunday’s post about Comicon, it’s Wednesday! And that’s new comic book day. Ooh, it’s a good week: American Vampire returns. The new “season” of Buffy begins and a new Dark Horse Presents appears. There’s also a twentieth anniversary book of Hellboy stuff put together by Mike Mignola and apparently containing new material. Visit your local comic book shop. you might be surprised, and while you’re there…

1. American Vampire

The story of Skinner Sweet, the first American vampire, different from the European species. Written by Scott Snyder and drawn by  Rafael Albuquerque, AV follows Skinner and his offspring Pearl Jones from the 1920s up through the 1950. The book has been on hiatus for a year, so I’m pretty excited to see this again.

2. Black Widow

The Black Widow is an early Marvel character originally appeared as a cold war Russian spy in Iron Man. With Scarlett Johanssen’s portrayal in the Marvel movies, interest has picked and Marvel’s trying another run as a spy seeking redemption. Four issues published and while it’s not essential, the art, by Phil Noto was a dreamy quality to it which is quite lovely.

3. Aya of Yop City

Now for people who think comics are all muscle-bound superheroes and busty damsels, this is necessary. Aya is a three-volume graphic novel by Margaret Abouet and Clement Oubriere and tells the story of Aya, a smart girl who lives in Cote D’Ivoire. The books focus on Aya’s goal to go to university while highlighting her friends and family problems. It’s poignant and heartwarming storytelling. (An animated version was made in France in 2012)

4. Battling Boy

Paul Pope’s epic fantasy about a boy, his quest and some power-laden t-shirts. It’s a thrilling little novel, which I read in a single sitting and immediately wanted more. More, is coming in September or so I hear.

5. Fatale

Sex, drugs, rock n roll, ritual killings…hang on a minute. Ed Brubaker’s fantastic book about a succubus like woman who weaves her way through American society pursued by Lovecraft like cultist. Sadly, only four issues left. And it’s worth buying the comics as they have cool little essays in the back.  

6. Velvet

Another Brubaker title which can be summed up in a single sentence: Imagine Miss Moneypenney were James Bond. Oh and she looks a little like Susan Sontag.

7.Dark Horse Presents

A monthly anthology series with great little stories sometimes spread over three or four issues. The cream of Dark Horse’s stable (was that enough of a painfully mixed metaphor for you?), including Neal Adams, Howard Chaykyn, Mike Mignola, Steve Niles and many many more.

8. Locke and Key

Is there a horror gene? Joe Hill’s dad is Stephen King. Joe Hill’s fantastic horror thriller echoes the best of his dad’s work, along with Lovecraft (that name again), and Hill’s own work. (Read Heart Shaped Box, it’s great) Who’s got the key now?

9. Casanova

Matt Fraction’s groovy SF spy book (which owes a nod to Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius saga) about the adventures of Casanova Quinn. Volume 1 is drawn by the very wonderful Gabriel Ba and the second by his equally wonderful twin brother Fabio Moon. That alone should make you want to read it. 

10. Loki Agent of Asgard

My friend Lindsey, who has generally impeccable taste, really digs this. Loki of course is Thor’s evil brother. But then he died. And came back as a boy. Now he’s more of an anti-hero. Wasn’t entirely my thing, but the last page (no spoilers here) is enough to make me want to read it further.

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Michael Heinrich on Value, Fetishism and Impersonal Domination

March 18, 2014 at 2:00 pm (Uncategorized)

Quite an interesting talk on value

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Scott “Rock Action” Asheton

March 17, 2014 at 5:19 pm (Uncategorized) ()

And another legend passes. Scott Asheton, co-founder of and drummer with the Stooges died of undisclosed causes last week aged 64. With his death, only Iggy remains from the original band. Bass player Dave Alexander died in 1975, while Scott’s brother Ron died in 2009.

I’ve seen the Stooges twice. At a free show at Dundas Square in 2010 and last year at Riot Fest. At the Dundas show, Iggy barked, “we are the remains of the Stooges,” (James Williamson played guitar and Mike Watt on bass), and even though it was true, it was a magnificent show. Last year, Asheton was no longer in the band; leaving after a stroke in 2012.

I know what I’ll be listening to at home tonight.

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Toronto Comicon 2014

March 16, 2014 at 8:59 pm (Uncategorized) ()

Toronto Comicon is the smaller, less popular brother of Fan Expo. Comicon usually arrives in March, and has more recently expanded to three days. I didn’t go last year, but I thought, hey why not this time?

I took the boy down on the Sunday as the convention was wrapping up.  We  arrived about thirty minutes before opening and immediate knew something was up – we could see the start of the line. Things proceeded pretty quickly thereafter and we were inside three minutes after the scheduled start.

It’s quite nice to be able to go to a comic convention and actually look at stuff without having to elbow people out-of-the-way or have to line up for an hour in advance (we stood in line for over an hour to see an Adventure Time screening last year). But for a more civilized experience, you pay a price.

There’s a lot less free stuff. Oh, sure if you applied yourself, you can find things, but there’s no Marvel, DC or Dark Horse. No EB Games with free bags or even Dr. Pepper handing out refreshing beverages. Just a lot of people selling things.

Fewer celebrities too. While it’s true Smallville’s Alison Mack did walk past me, and I could see Eliza Dushku from across the room (I almost never line up for celebrity autographs), there weren’t a tremendous number around. (Though, I did have to turn away from the sight of internet model Vera Baby’s backside – that’s a little too up close and personal).

And the panels? Pretty slim pickings on that last day. I did consider going to the Continuum screening (any show that’s been described as right and left-wing should be worth a look, but since I’ve never seen an episode…) and also the Bitten panel (again, never seen it), but those were at the end of the day. I did chat with various artists and retailers, including the Kill Shakespeare people and, yes, I did lay my money down, but I think next year I’ll wait for the bigger events.

However, all of this raises a larger question. not so long ago,  if I had told people I was in my forties and not only still read comics, but attended comic conventions (No I don’t dress up), people would have cut a wide circle around me. Now, I’m a few months away from being 50, and instead, when you fess up, people say “cool” (OK, some people say cool, but a lot more than a few years back).

So what happened? A popular theory is that SF/fantasy like many genres has a core base; in this case the geek nerds who couldn’t talk to girls and overwhelmingly supported fantasy stories where they could imagine themselves as the centre of the universe. The argument goes that the expansion beyond that it’s simply the SF/fantasy’s turn. Just as western and war movies were once popular, now it’s the turn of the superhero. After all, the basic plot, the man on a white horse,  is still there.

The thing that seems different from previous fads is the pervasiveness of the fantasy genre. Right now there are at least four TV shows dedicated to the proposition that fairy tales are real. In addition both Marvel and DC have versions of their characters on TV.  The new Captain America, Spider-Man and even the Guardians of the Galaxy movie are widely anticipated. And young adult lit…the Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Divergence, Artimus Fowl, Percy Jackson, the list seems endless. Even at their peak did other forms of genre fiction inspire more than 100,000 people trek down to the Convention Centre for Fan Expo, a significant number in costume?

Or perhaps it’s that the world we live in, an increasingly barbaric one fueled by technology, potentially alienating technology drives us to seek connections with increasingly fantastic and exaggerated behaviours? While there are many fantasy programs on TV, “reality” TV almost exclusively features exaggerated and outlandish behaviour (the worse the better). Why couldn’t we be, as Bowie suggested, heroes, even if for just one day?

And yeah, I’m still looking for that Lying Cat t-shirt.

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The Death of Tony Benn

March 14, 2014 at 6:39 pm (Uncategorized)

Tony Benn was a part of my political development.

When I was in my third year of university in 1986, I got a cat. On a whim. Actually, it was on the suggestion of a girlfriend who clearly saw more keenly than I did our relationship wasn’t going to endure. I thought about a name, and initially, but not seriously, considered Scargill. Eventually I went with Benn, in honour of the British Labour MP. The cat is long gone, and now so it Tony Benn himself, passing away today at the age of 88.

Even at the time I got the cat, sorry for the continued digression here, my politics weren’t Benn’s. Today, more than twenty-five years later, we occupy almost entirely different worlds. Benn was a Labour Party MP, a so-called democratic socialist who believed that capitalism could be reformed, that a peaceful transition to some form of socialism was possible. (And, let’s not forget that our definitions of socialism have little in common). Add to that Benn’s ‘Little Englandism’ and you might wonder why I ever named that cat after him.

So a couple of words then. First, that Benn fought to get rid of his peerage is worthy of note. The story is well documented, so I won’t repeat it, but on a small level it shows more than a little integrity. Second, Benn moved leftward (all things considered) after serving in government. Third, the passing of Benn and the disappearance of the Bennite left (like the Bevanites before them) seem to be the end of an era. With the ascendancy of Tony Blair’s New Labour, Benn and his co-thinkers seemed like relics from another age – even if Benn’s socialism was of a type that could be contained within capitalism, he always appeared to be what some called “an honest reformist.” (The proof of this of course, that he never broke with Labour)

By the time I came to politics, Bennism had already been defeated, and the leftist opposition in the party was Militant. When I named the cat I was already a Trotskyist. When I got a dog a few years back, we named it Lester.

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