Music Notes July 2016

July 30, 2016 at 6:33 pm (Uncategorized)

Ah, July. Only a month of good summer listens left.

1 Bob Dylan – Fallen Angels

No, no, no. I don’t get it. Dylan’s early work is untouchable. Some of the greatest American music of the twentieth century. And now, I keep reading reviews of Dylan’s stuff about how brilliant he continues to be, but I don’t get it. At all. He can’t sing any more, and his maudlin renditions of schmaltzy  standards are just embarrassing. Disagree if you like, but at this point I wonder if Dylan did die in that motorcycle crash.

2 Julie Ruin – Run Fast

Haven’t heard the new record yet, but the Julie Ruin’s first Run Fast is engaging. Punky, but not hardcore, Kathleen Hanna’s wail emerging above the noise. Instantly enjoyable.

3. Alan Vega

Several decades ago, I was in Records on Wheels on St. Paul Street in St. Catharines. I’d gone to buy the Lords of the New Church album, but while I was there, the cover of Suicide’s first record caught my eye. Even if the band weren’t called Suicide, the blood smeared cover is hard to ignore. It’s not an easy listen (“Frankie Teardrop” is harrowing), but the minimalist electronics of “Ghost Rider” and “Rocket USA” are intense. And then there’s something like “Cheree,” which is just beautiful. The second Suicide LP is different, and so were all of Vega’s solo records. His passing last week marks the end of an era, and of a true innovator.

4. Bauhaus – Swing the Heartache- The BBC Sessions

Never a big Bauhaus fan. They were a band I heard on the radio, rather than one I put down my money for. Still, this is a pretty good collection of the BBC stuff. Most of the hits are here (except “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”), and there are some nice covers (“Night Time,” “Telegram Sam,” “Third Uncle” and a stun volume version of “Ziggy Stardust’). All sound a little different to the originals. Probably not the best place to start your Bauhaus collection, but not the worst either.

5  Bonnie Prince Billy –Wolfroy Goes to Town

Hillbilly folk, sadness and religion, and Angel Olsen too. It’s not fundamentally different to many other Will Oldham records, but that’s a good thing isn’t it?

6 Adam and the Ants – Dirk Wears White Sox

Adam and the Ants were the last punk band. Everyone else signed, and sold out. Not Adam. He inspired a cult following of “Ant People.” So after the disappointment of “Young Parisians” people were hoping for something special. And the results are…mixed. Some great moments to be sure (the original “Car Trouble,” “Catholic Day” and “Cleopatra”), but the production is flat and overall the songs sound like works-in-progress. The CD adds a half-dozen tracks which are frankly superior to the rest of the album,  so that’s worth something. And then a year later, Adam lost his band, jettisoned the S & M fetishes and decided he wanted to be a pirate pop star. The rest is history.

7 Tubeway Army –Replicas

Oh, I bought a copy of “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” when it was released, but I wouldn’t say I was a fan of Tubeway Army. Like many, I thought that Gary Numan was a not as talented copy of John Foxx’s Ultravox. Numan bitterly denied this, arguing why not claim he was ripping off Bowie (to which he confessed, but then so was Foxx).  So, it’s a bit of a surprise listening to the second Tubeway Army record three decades later, and seeing how good it is. Sure Numan can’t really sing, but the split between punk and electronica is pretty interesting. Still like “Down in the Park.”

8 Husker Du – Warehouse Songs and Stories

I think I saw the band on this tour. What was it they were called “the Beatles of hardcore.” I don’t really like those early records (nor hardcore really), but this blend of that sensibility along with a pop undercurrent is supremely listenable.

9 Palma Violets – “Best Friend”

Sometimes a band should just break-up after that one song. I love the rest of the first album 180, but he first single is just so special; I went to see them based on hearing it. I don’t think the band will ever top it.

10 Michael Bradley- Teenage Kicks: My Life as an Undertone

I have not read this book yet, but I can’t help but plug it. A memoir from the bass player for one of Northern Ireland’s greatest pop-punk bands is good enough for me.

One month of summer left.

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I Wish I Had a Speechwriter

July 29, 2016 at 4:22 pm (Uncategorized)

You know when you come out with a line, and then you have to hang about waiting to use it?

Last year, when Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked why he had so many women in his cabinet, he answered without missing a beat: “Because it’s 2015.” Now, I don’t know whether he had that line in his head or it came to him on the spot, but it was very effective. Wouldn’t it be great to have someone writing lines for you?

Now Trump clearly doesn’t, which is he just says whatever drivel is peculating in his head, and why he makes for great copy. But pandering to racists isn’t what I’m suggesting here.

The person who thought up “All lies matter” as a response to the All Lives Matter crowd was also very sharp. But my current favourite is from another Canadian politician, Kathleen Wynn. Wynn is Ontario’s first women premier and Ontario’s first gay premier, and has pretty well defied all political expectations – everyone expected her government to be drowned by the tsunami of scandals the previous Liberal leader left her with, but she increased Liberal support and won a majority.  Anyway, this is starting to sound like a plug for Canada’s Liberals – it’s isn’t but I do know a good line when I hear it.  Wynn was asked why she hadn’t gotten on board with the All Lives Matter rhetoric. She replied to say that was like saying we need a parade for straight people.

It’s a good line.

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A.N.O.K. IN T.O. 2016

July 29, 2016 at 4:08 pm (Uncategorized)

And if you’re hearing about this now, you just missed the Toronto Anarchist Bookfair for 2016. It was last weekend.

This was the seventh annual summer bookfair, and often it seems like a wonder if there will be another one. I’ve tabled at a number of bookfairs in Toronto over the years, and the collectives always seem different. The current one though has been in existence for a few years, and it seems to be a little more solid than those in the past. In any event. this year’s bookfair came off with nary a hitch (OK, a couple of small ones…)

Talking to people, it seemed that everyone’s sales were down and fewer people came out. My sales were down from last year, even though I tabled both days.  Oddly enough my sales are usually better in Montreal even though I don’t speak French and rarely have French materials. Go figure.

I gave a talk on geography, a subject I’ve become interested in over the last year. Last year, I gave a talk last year about literature, which was sparsely attended but this year 25 people came out to hear me. I talked a little about the importance of geography and then we chatted about cities for ninety minutes (there was a small digression into social media at the end, but no biggie).

Overall, a good weekend.

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Are you Ready for the Country?

July 29, 2016 at 4:08 pm (Uncategorized)

Ah, back after a week in the country.

I grew up in a smallish town, but I’ve lived in cities ever since I moved to Canada in 1981 (apart from a year in Nova Scotia in the mid-nineties when I was in school) . I’m an urban creature, and that line in the Communist Manifesto about the “idiocy of rural life” always spoke to me. So, it was with some trepidation that we rented a cottage for a week in Prince Edward County (population: 25,258).

As we walked around the place we had rented, my son muttered that it would be a “really nice place if it wasn’t in the middle of nowhere.”  And to be fair, Cherry Valley, where we were located, is a bit small. On the main drive, there’s a store called The Store in Cherry Valley. The use of the definite article isn’t much of an exaggeration.  A little farther down the road is a sign for a store called “Fixaco,” but on the store itself is reads Texaco. Maybe you should fixaco that.  But subtle delighted awaited.

We hit a couple of farmer’s markets on the weekend. First Wellington, which, if truth be told, was really an artists market. Sure, sure, there were people selling fresh fruit and veg, but most of the stuff was designer crafts or bottled or baked food stuffs. Bought some cupcakes and some amazing hot sauce. The next day we went to a second market in Picton. Picton is approximately three times the size of Wellington, so you might reasonably expect its market to be larger as well. You’d be wrong. It was tiny, and probably half of the sellers, we had seen the previous day in Wellington. Still, the town itself was nice, small town Ontario:  A limited number of stop lights, confusing right-of-ways, one-of-a-kind stores and a general sense of calm. Even the boy began to relent: “People are friendlier here than in Toronto.”

Monday was the busiest day. We had breakfast at the Drake Devonshire (a branch of the Toronto hotel) in Wellington overlooking Lake Ontario, then headed off to wine country. We stopped at Norman Hardie near Hillier, then went over to Broken Stone Wineries which is owned by the family of a friend of my daughter’s.  As we mentioned the connection between their daughter and ours, I realized we were buying a bottle.  The wine was really good though. A quick look at an alpaca ranch and a lavender farm (filled with aging white people and home.

Tuesday, I made a serious miscalculation. I’ve known I have horse allergies for a few years. A while back, a friend of mine was competing in some kind of horsey thing and we went to support her. After about ten minutes of sitting in the gallery, I realized I could barely breathe. The next time was at an open air event in Ottawa, and I made sure not to touch any of the horses. No problems this time. Ah ha, I thought, I’ve cracked it. So when the family decided to go horseback riding, I assuming as long as I didn’t overly touch the horses, I’d be fine.  Inside the stables, the air was fetid and I had a stab of panic, but when we stepped outside, everything seemed fine. I was pretty pleased when I was easily able to get on the horse with some grace, and I felt like Gary Cooper. But you can’t help patting he horse, can you? Shortly after we left, my skin began to blotch, then itch, and then swell. Within an hour, my arms, legs and neck were swollen, and I could hardly see out of my right eye. Horses are magnificent creatures; however, they seem to want to kill me.

The final days were spent at Sandbanks Provincial Park, which is a beautiful park with some magnificent beaches at the west end of Prince Edward County. We walked some nature trails, although the warning about lyme ticks made us all overly worried about mosquitoes – at one point on our walk, I noticed blood running down my leg, and there was a moment of panic, but it was probably a scratch from a branch. The final day was at the beach. I’m not really a beach person – the sun and I don’t really get along, but smothered in sun block, I’m good for a couple of hours.

But that was really only half our trip. The rest was well, doing nothing. Sitting by East Lake, reading. Just reading. Fiction, essays, philosophy. Just relaxing. I’ve never really understood the appeal of cottage country (and my family doesn’t own a cottage), but I think I get it now. I’ve been back in Toronto for a week, and at times it’s an assault. The cars, the people, the noise.

Of course that’s what makes the city exciting too. A medieval proverb had it, the city air makes you free. Free to reinvent, free to reimagine, and probalby free from the informal tyranny of the countryside where everybody knew everybody and everybody’s business.

The countryside can be crushingly monolithic. In culture, in attitudes, in what was acceptable. When I lived in Antigonish, Nova Scotia in the nineties, those who lived in the town itself were dismissively labelled “townies,” and if your family had arrived less than a few generations back, you were still an outsider. But that’s going to change in PEC. The multi-million dollar homes are already there, and every town we drove through had some kind of middle income development in progress. Capitalism is coming. OK, it’s already there, but you know what I mean. Within a decade then…


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Vacation. Stop.

July 15, 2016 at 12:19 pm (Uncategorized)

I realize one of the many reasons why I’m not a journalist is that I’m not very good with deadlines. I have a Kills piece I’m half-finished, along with something on the Tragically Hip and scalpers. This week I had planned to write something about Black Lives Matter and the events in Dallas. Then the Sanders campaign came to an end, andIi thought I should have a go at that. Then yesterday, the atrocity in nice.

And now I’m going on vacation for a week, which means little to nothing will get done.  It’s probably just as well I’ll miss the Julie Ruin and Mitski while I’m away – two more pieces I won’t complete.

But hey, I will have time to work on a talk about geography I’m giving at this year’s Toronto anarchist bookfair – my talk is on the Sunday afternoon. And I’ll be tabling both days. More details here 


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The New 52

July 10, 2016 at 6:10 pm (Uncategorized)

No, that the crappy DC reboot, now thankfully disappeared under some other line. It’s not just Dada. It’s my birthday too.

Along with

  • Archetype mad scientist Nikola Tesla
  • TV personality Jessica Simpson
  • Chumbawamba founder who once bought me a beer Alice Nutter
  • Determinist Jean Calvin
  • Funky painter Camille Pissaro
  • Critic Marcel Proust
  • Triffid fan John Wyndham
  • Superman c0-creatro Joe Shuster
  • Ragin’ bull Jake LaMotta
  • Munster Fred Gwyn
  • Brilliant Canadian author and mother of one of my former co-workers Alice Munro
  • Tennis star Virginia Wae
  • Firefly and Barney Miller alumni Ron Glass
  • Pet Shop Boy Neil Tennant
  • Runaway Sandy West
  • Model and actress Sofia Vergara
  • Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor
  • Entourager Adrian Grenier
  • and many more

A friend of mine once said to me that birthdays were good for you. The more you have the longer you live. Agreed.


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Happy Birthday Dada!

July 10, 2016 at 5:56 pm (Uncategorized)

Actually, Thursday July 14 is the centenary of the reading of the Dada Manifesto by Hugo Ball. The birthday of Dada? Who knows, and any way, it seems unlikely that the Dadaists would have wanted a party (or maybe they would).

Today’s New York Times has this piece on it

But, you might also have a thumb through Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces or just watch this Talking Heads video for “I Zimbra”with lyrics by Hugo Ball.


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The Museum of Steam

July 9, 2016 at 10:29 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve written before about my enjoyment of steampunk. In fact, there’s a volume of Canadian steampunk stories waiting for me at the public library right now. So then it made sense to make a trip to Hamilton (about 45 minutes from Toronto) to see the Museum of Steam and Technology.(All of my wife’s friends at work thought I was a huge nerd for wanting to go)

The museum is actually a 150 year old waterworks which contains two 70-ton steam engines, and is pretty impressive. There is a guided tour (which added a lot for me), and some pretty cool steam related material. The tour guide insisted that it was a good place to work and that the management of the day treated workers fairly and without prejudice (have to check that one…) and while people did occasionally lose fingers, things were just dandy.  Whether or not you accept this, the tour was pretty cool and very informative. And although my kids disagreed, it is worth driving to Hamilton to see it.

And if you’re interested in other steampunk stuff, you could check out the Great Canadian Steampunk Exposition

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Pride and Black Lives Matter

July 9, 2016 at 10:28 pm (Uncategorized)

Six years ago to this day, I posted a short piece called Gay Pride 201o

Basically, I noted that in its history Toronto’s gay pride march had got from the smallish gay community and its leftist allies to the mass media spectacle it is today where prime ministers and premiers vie for camera space. When the turning point for this transformation was, I’m not sure, but it seems in the early nineties, the organizers were excluding leftists. Today of course, such exclusion is unnecessary as the parade has become a mass celebration of sexuality and the right to be whomever you choose rather than a protest, and on one wants to buy Workers Vampire. . But it’s also huge corporate sponsorship. Banks, TV companies, business from large to small all wish a happy pride and wrap themselves in the rainbow flag.

Hence the politicians. Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau was there. So was Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynn and Toronto’s Mayor John Tory. Hell, Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown was there proclaiming his support for marriage equity. It wasn’t so long ago that Brown was courting the homophobic vote in order to become Tory leader, but it seems as if he’s realized there’s more votes among people who aren’t homophobic instead. It’s a remarkable change in just a couple of decades.

In 2010 though, the issue was a group calling themselves Queers Against Israeli Apartheid which threaten to, well, rain on the parade. Some wanted them excluded.; some insisted on their right to march. In the end, a compromise was reached, and the party proceeded as normal.

In 2016, it’s Black Lives Matter. As most people know, Black Lives Matter were invited  , but at some point during the parade, the switched tactics, sat down on the street, and refused to move unless certain demands were met, the most contentious of which was the exclusion of police floats (who knew?) from future pride events. Pride executive director Mathieu Chantelois agreed to the demands, allowing the parade to get underway again, only to recant the following day.

Three schools seem to have emerged.

  1. Those who thought that BLM had every right to do as they did, it being in the spirit of pride, as well as focusing attention on the issue of police violence. This was before the events in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas, but even so there were no doubt quite a few who had experienced another side of police justice and weren’t at all happy after the presence of “Toronto’s finest.”
  2. Those who felt that BLM had abused the hospitality of Pride, held the parade hostage and attempted to focus on their issue (in the following week BLM was flooded with hate mail about their behaviour)
  3. Those who weren’t aware that anything had happened. After all, a delay of 30 minutes of so in a march of that size…

I think it was Oscar Wilde who said, the only worse than being talked about is not being talked about, and BLM’s goal is fundamentally about inclusion not revolution. Inclusion means an end to the institutionalized racism of this society,and being a part of broader forces. Can BLM transform into something as fundamentally within the system as pride? It seems like as racism is much more deeply ingrained in society than homophobia and it seems that nothing less than revolution will be required to remove it, but it also seems unlikely that this will create a fundemantal crisis for either organization


PS. I had started writing this post, when the latest round of gun-related violence in the States began. I’ll write more about that later.

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Um Chagga Lagga

July 7, 2016 at 5:31 pm (Uncategorized)

If, like me, you were kinda disappointed by the Pixies last release Indie Cindy, the new single “Um Chagga Lagga” should delight.  Rockabilly flavoured and gloriously silly. And Paz Lanchantin too.

Listen at SoundCloud

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