Goodbye 2014

December 31, 2014 at 4:20 am (Uncategorized)

And so an end to 2014. Here are a few things that made this year better for me.

1. New York

Off the list for a couple of years, I went to New York twice this year. Once as a fiftieth birthday present to myself, and the second time with my sister. Every time I go, it feels as if I’m just scratching the surface. This time I made it to the Guggenheim, Central Park and the High Line along with the usual suspects. I also had a drink in the White Horse Tavern, something that’s been on the list for years. A great experience as always.

2. Duct Tape

I’ve developed a bit of a minor obsession with duct tape. Last Father’s Day, I saw the local library was running a class on how to make a duct tape wallet. I said to my son, “You should go.” (hint, hint) “Nah.” So, I ended up downloading a template and teaching myself. It’s the only wallet I use now. And I make them for other people. Everyone is always impressed. (A wallet only takes about 20 minutes to make!) I’ve been buying the printed tape for a while, but I discovered today that there’s a One Direction print. Looking for that in the New Year!

3. Marmite

For North Americans, it’s the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. For me, it was a cheese and marmite sandwich. I think I’ must have eaten one of those almost every day of my life when I was a child. I’ve been buying the stuff for years (still in the same jar), but this year, it just seemed a lot more like comfort food. Maybe it’s turning 50 that made me nostalgic.

4. Ripley’s Aquarium

Yes, it’s overpriced, it’s crowded, and it’s hard to get to, but it’s also quite stunning.  Quite stunning.

5. The Art Gallery of Ontario

I’ve been a member of the AGO for a couple of years, and every time I go, I wonder why I don’t go more often. Yes, yes, I agree with the Surrealist critique that most art galleries are like mausoleums, but there’s also something terrifyingly beautiful about the work that’s there. Am planning to go again on New Year’s Day to see the Alex Colville show and also Art Spiegelman.

6. The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Got to say the nerd in me loves the way the ‘verse is unfolding. The Winter Soldier movie and Guardians of the Galaxy were great films, perhaps because I wasn’t expecting too much from either. I’m still not convinced Ant-Man is a good idea, but Age of Ultron will be, er, super.

7. Hats

On average, I buy about one hat a year. And when I say hat, I don’t mean a baseball cap. An actual hat. This year I bought a top hat from Goorin Brothers. I’m very happy with it. My daughter hisses “Dad! Can you take that off?” whenever I wear it around her. Still, at a party a few weeks back, someone suggested I had a Bill Sykes vibe. I’ll take that.

8.  John Oliver

You mean the English cook? No, that’s Jamie Oliver. John Oliver was a Daily Show replacement host, Professor Duncan on Community and now the host of Last Week Tonight on HBO. Very funny, very biting. Like Jon Stewart. Only British.

9. Dean Wareham

I waited years to see Wareham as I was a late convert to the cult of Galaxie 500 (it began after I read Wareham’s book Black Postcards – recommended). The show at the Horseshoe Tavern, one of the best places in the city to see a band was tremendous. Enjoyed his music quite a bit this year.

10 The Strypes

I saw the Strypes at their debut North American show at Lee’s Palace, and again about two months later at the Mod Club. Like Dr. Feelgood on speed. Ferocious R ‘n’ B, and a terrific record to boot.

11 Heart of Darkness

Yup, the novel by Joseph Conrad. A conversation led to complaints about how awful the book was (“the worst book ever written’). Now, I read it in university, and I thought I liked it. Only one thing to do then ; read it again. Then, I discovered I hadn’t read it, and then I wondered why. It’s a harrowing account of a journey which encounters racism, “civilization,” and corruption, and asks what is the nature of man? All told by an unreliable narrator.

12. The World Socialist Web Site

OK, it’s from a Trotskyist perspective. That’s a strike against. But it’s a daily (except Sundays and holidays) leftist news service that comments on a lot of important stuff. I’ve reprinted some material from the site on the blog here and will likely do so again (they quoted me once without attribution, but I’m OK with that – next time guys!) And the arts reviews are worth reading (pick up David Walsh’s book too) .

13 Scott Snyder

The writer of American Vampire has a new series called Wytches, and it’s extremely creepy. More so that even Robert Kirkman’s new book Outcast. There’s just something about the woods that weirds  me out.

14 Organic Cold 911

No, no, not a conspiracy theorist’s dream. Organic Cold 911 is a loose  drink sold by David’s Teas. It contains peppermint, apple, juniper berries, eucalyptus and orange flavouring. A co-worker brought some in, and since I was nursing a cold, I decided to try. So good, so good, I picked some up on the way home.

15 The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker

Just as we began to despair as Fatale came to an end, Ed Brubaker announced he was following it up with The Fade Out, a noir thriller set in 50s Hollywood. Three issues so far, but I’m hooked.


I’ve been to TCAF for the last few years, but this year I went to the seminar day as well. A really interesting day of workshops about this art form (although I might skip lunch next year). I won a bag of books, and then on Saturday I got books signed by Darwyn Cooke and Mr. Brubaker

17. The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair

I’ve tabled at the bookfair every year since it began in 2000. It has grown by leaps and bounds then. Sales vary from year to year, and I’m pretty sure I lose money,  but the experience is always worth it. If you’re in the Montreal area at the end of May next year, come by and say hello.

18 Monkey boots

I’ve worn Doc Martens since I was in my mid-teens. I wore the boots up through my twenties, but somewhere along I switched to the shoes. Now, last week, I bought a pair of monkey boots. Stylish and comfortable.

19 Internationalist Perspective

The group of which I am a member. It’s been a bit of a rough year this year. I won’t bore with all the details, they’re available here. This is my tenth year in, (the longest I’ve been a member of any group – even Red & Black Notes lasted a shorter period) but I still believe we make an important contribution. We’ve just finished a new issue which I think is pretty good. Maybe, next year will be better. And speaking of which…

20 Hope for tomorrow.

Two topics have dominated workplace discussions in the last while: The police shootings in the US and the Jian Ghomeshi affair and its fallout. (OK, those plane disasters in Asia are a bit weird too!) Too often we look for perfect scenarios for resistance and fightback on a classical model. But to be human is to resist on a certain level. The police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Gardner have provoked a tremendous response and discussion about racism in society. The revelations about Jian Ghomeshi have raised an awareness about the levels of violence against women. Whether these examples will fade or be the spark of much larger examples is too early to tell. But we can hope, can’t we, for a better world?

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Music Notes December 2014

December 27, 2014 at 12:04 am (Uncategorized)

As always in December, a little earlier than usual. Funnily enough in December, I find myself listening to one of three styles of music: Christmas songs obviously. Best of the year stuff; nostalgia. And for me, nostalgia is those last three years of the 1970s when I first began to listen to music in a serious way.

Sure, 1977 was an awakening, but I read about punk before I heard it. By 1978, I was beginning to take music a lot more seriously. I got my first album that wasn’t a greatest hits record (Black and White by the Stranglers), and I also began to read the weekly music press. I bought my first copy of New Musical Express because the Stranglers were on the cover (yes them again), and that was it. I read the paper every week for the next three years until I came to Canada, and it became too expensive to buy. (And speaking of the Stranglers, they were the first band I saw live, but that wasn’t until the following year).

This month’s music notes is a look at some singles from that year because it was still the age of the single, and while I did buy albums, it was in that seven-inch format that most of my consumption took place. NB, I didn’t buy all of the records in this list, which is a shame because many of them would be cool things to own.

1. The Angelic Upstarts – “The Murder of Liddle Towers”

I’m not sure where I first heard this one, but I do remember thinking, “Wow.” It’s a pretty straight forward punk blast: “Who killed Liddle/ police killed Liddle Towers!” Apparently they had years of problems with the police in Newcastle as a result.

2. Public Image Ltd – “Public Image”

I was just a little too young to fully experience the Sex Pistols, but by the time PIL released their first single, I was ready. It’s an amazing child which of course still bears the scars of its birth: Punky sounding vocals, slashing metallic guitar, throbbing bass and crisp drums, but hardly any indication of the heights they were to scale with Metal Box. I still have the newspaper sleeve. You don’t actually need to listen to the B-side, “The Cowboy Song” more than once though.

3. Kate Bush – “Wuthering Heights”

One of the strangest debut singles I’d say. A pretty pop song by the 19 year-old Kate, but it’s the vocal that fascinates, intimidates and dominates. Alternately soaring and crouching. I hadn’t read the book at that point, but it drew me in.

4. Johnny Thunders – You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory”

Around the time I started buying the music press, I discovered fanzines. Zigzag, then edited by Kris Needs, wasn’t exactly a zine, but it was close enough. The first issue I bought had Johnny Thunders on the cover. Thunders was promoting his first solo record So Alone and was also playing shows with the likes of Peter Perrett of the Only Ones. This song is not only Thunders’ greatest song, it’s one of the greatest songs.  Did it chart? Ah, no.

5. Alternative TV – “Action, Time, Vision”

ATV covered a long of ground, in sound, in lyrical content and in personnel with Mark Perry (Sniffin Glue being the only constant). The sound on this one is not really like the rest of their material, but it’s a uber-catchy riff, and I liked it when I heard it on Peel.

6. Jilted John – “Jilted John”

A novelty single about a guy named John who is, well, jilted by his girl for a guy named Gordon, who, John asserts, is a moron. Notable for its whiny punk vocals and that it was produced by Martin Hammett. John, AKA Graham Fellows appeared on Coronation Street afterwards.

7. Althea and Donna – “Uptown Top Ranking”

OK, this was released in 1977, but it didn’t become a hit until 1978. Two Jamaican schoolgirls singing reggae about…well, who knows what especially if you’re a teen living in a small town near Oxford? Who cared? It sounded like nothing I’d heard. Amazing stuff.  And yet they never managed to do it again.

8. 10cc – “Dreadlock Holiday”

In the middle of this little reggae block then, a number one song. 10cc went back many years before this single. I think the first song of theirs I heard was 1972’s “Rubber Bullets.” Hard not to like this little homage to Jamaica, which was not without a few risky references (sex and drugs cleverly hidden). As a 14-year-old, I had no idea, but it sounded much more exciting than where I was.

9. The Police – “Can’t Stand Losing You.”

I don’t really like the Police, but the first album does have some songs on it. And this one is the one I bought. Punky reggae. C’mon how can you resist this line, “And you’ll be sorry when I’m dead/and all this guilt will be on your head.” My copy is in a picture sleeve on blue vinyl.  Should be worth a few bob.

10. Tonight – “Drummer Man”

Ludicrously catchy new wave song. Unavailable for years, it’s now an easy download.

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Revolt into Style

December 22, 2014 at 8:53 pm (Uncategorized)

He turns revolt into a style, prolongs
The impulse to a habit of the time.

–Thom Gunn

The poet Thom Gunn was talking about Elvis Presley, but I first heard the phrase as the title of a single by ex-Be-Bop Deluxe member Bill Nelson’s solo project Red Noise. I wasn’t a fan of Nelson’s prog-rock group, but  I liked the sound of this one. New wave sounding and dressed like teenage Maoists.

Later I heard of George Melly’s book Revolt into Style, and eventually after reading Dick Herbidge’s Subcultures too, I found the Gunn poem.

This is a rather long way of mentioning I’ve just finished reading Richard Weight’s book Mod: A Very British Style. I’ve been interesting in the Mod cult for a few years (the sociology and style of it, but not necessarily all of the music it entailed), but Weight’s book goes beyond the sixties scooter kids and the periodic revivals; instead, perhaps following from Jon Savage’s investigations into the birth of the teenager, Weight looks at post-war British youth who after copying American rock ‘n’ roll, invented something perhaps uniquely English (if such a thing can be said to exist in a globalized cultural economy – perhaps it exists as mod failed to trigger a reaction in the US).

Weight further examines subsequent youth cults, such as skinhead, Northern Soul, punk, the 70s Mod revival, and Two-tone up through Madchester and Britpop.

It’s a pretty interesting book, and it’s a great survey of youth subcultures from the last half century. Well worth a look if you’ve some holidays coming up over the Christmas break.

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Suffer the Little Children

December 22, 2014 at 1:29 am (Uncategorized)

The pre-Christmas Work and a side-writing project have meant that I didn’t get around to commenting on everything I wanted to mention recently. For example, I didn’t post anything about the CIA torture report even though I won’t be able to think about humus in the same way for quite some time. There were others too, but this one I had to write something. I almost titled this “Living in a State of WTF part 2,” but instead I went with a more traditional title.

The massacre of 132 children last week in Pakistan shocked me. That doesn’t happen too much anymore. Call me cynical. Call me jaded. The last time I can recall being shaken like this was the Sandy Hook massacre two years ago. Sandy Hook, I can get almost my head around: From all accounts, a mentally ill loner with easy access to guns; do the math. It could have been a McDonalds or a shopping mall. Instead it was a school. These school killings, perhaps because of the scale, perhaps because of the calculation behind it, less so.  As a guy where I worked said after the Sandy Hook killings, that shit is fucked up. Worth repeating.

I could of course make glib comments about chickens coming home to roost. After all, the Taliban in Afghanistan (who incidentally condemned the action) and their Pakistani cousins were in part the creation of Pakistani Intelligence agencies and are still protected by elements within them. In addition, what isn’t really reported is the ongoing drone attacks the US and Pakistan are carrying out, and which the Taliban claim was the reason for their attack. Who knows how many innocents have been killed indiscriminately by these action?

It’s hard to tally deaths when they are not reported, but the US killings present a callous approach, an almost indifferent slaughter. It’s as if they said, “Well, we’ll probably kill a few terrorists too and probably the civilian deaths will demoralize them.” And I thought Dick Cheney, had left government; never was a man so truly named – how vile, how black the soul of that man must be. Seventy years later the logic of Dresden lives on.

So when six heavily armed Taliban militants scaled a school wall in Peshawar, it was payback they said. We want the military to see the loss of their sons and daughters as we have lost ours. We want them to feel our pain.

But still, it must take a special kind of person to say we’re going to deliberately target children for murder to make a point. It’s worth noting too that a majority of the children were shot in the head. Although, in an apparently irony-free moment, when the Taliban took credit, the spokesman noted their fighters were told not to kill young children.

I’ve not spent a great deal of time in “criminal” circles, but I generally understood it was not cool to kill or target old people, women (especially pregnant women) or children. The Taliban however have edited that list down to young children.  I almost wish there were a god to be dealing out punishment because boys, it wouldn’t be 72 virgins for you. Something warmer I imagine.

To change the subject a little then. I used to watch the TV show Criminal Minds. It’s a well-made show, but I had to give up watching because too made of the episodes dealt with terrible things happening to children. Maybe I’m getting soft.

In the circles I do travel, we used to talk about the decadence f capitalism. the self-destructiveness of this system. How it turns upon its self, creating more and more barbaric atrocities. And there has been no shortage of those. I’d like to contrast that with a report Ian Brown wrote and which appeared in Saturday’s Globe and Mail about a visit to a school he made. This was his description of recess:

Before I left, I stepped outside for recess, where 250 children were about to take a 15-minute break. I figured I’d finally have a chance to see what 132 kids looked like.

You hear the noise coming first. They burst through the metal doors, then stopped, pooling in a knot; then they rocketed off across the playground in 250 directions, for the baseball diamond, the perimeter, for tag and soccer and bullying, for a quiet corner to think and watch. It wasn’t anything special: just a bunch of kids on the last day of school before the holidays, which is not the worst day of school.

I kept thinking I ought to break down in tears of something, sadness or gratitude, but that didn’t happen until later, unexpectedly, as I drove away. In the schoolyard, I just kept trying to count 132 kids, without counting anyone twice. It was harder than you’d imagine: there was a lot of pink and blue, a lot of hats worn low over the eyes, a lot of speeding around. Someone should study all the ways kids run: headlong, daintily, knees high or galumphing, hands open or flat, to cut wind resistance.

It was such a gorgeous sight. They were not running for their lives.

Ian Brown What 132 Children Ought to Look Like


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Living in a State of WTF

December 9, 2014 at 1:42 am (Uncategorized)

It seems I can’t turn on the TV or read the news without a WTF moment: The murder of Michael Brown and the failure to deal; the murder of Eric Garner and another failure to charge; the Police drive-by-execution of Tamir Rice, and now stories surface that the cop who shot Akai Gurley texted his union rep instead of calling it in (or better yet calling an ambulance!) as Gurley lay dying. WTF seems almost mild.

To expect “justice” is to be disappointed. But even a casual observer can’t help but be shaken at the brazenness with which these killings have been carried out, the perpetrators secure in the knowledge, they will neither be charged or held responsible.

A friend pointed out this article at Metamute to me and it’s of some interest: Inextinguishable Fire: Ferguson and Beyond 

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