Goodbye 2016

December 31, 2016 at 5:27 pm (Uncategorized)

I was joking with a friend that maybe this ought to be “Good Riddance 2016,” but seriously…. This was the year we lost Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Elie Wiesel, Alistair MacLeod, Prince Buster, Carrie Fisher, Gary Shandling, Leonard Cohen and many many more, as well as seeing a boorish, vulgar, narcissistic sociopath chosen to be the leader of the most important country in the world. <sigh>  But, if I’m being honest, I’d admit that most other years suck too. Still, there were things that made it worthwhile, along with family, friends and dog, the following made life a little easier.

1 The Mekons

For those who don’t know, the Mekons are one of the last standing of the class of 77, but what’s cool is unlike some, they continue to make great music that sounds fresh and vital. Saw them at the Horseshoe this year, and they were wonderful. If you can find their newest release Existentialism which comprises a live CD,  and a book of essays, poems and art, get it. Great.

2 Neil Gaiman

One of my favourite fantasy authors. In addition to releasing a collection of essays, The View from the Cheap Seats that sent me scurrying to find new books mentioned, there were radio plays of Stardust and How the Marquis got his coat Back, a reading of Poe’s “The Raven,” and the impending TV adaptation of American Gods. Very cool. And to cap it off, my friend Lindsey bought me an American Gods T-shirt for Christmas.

3. Prince Edward County

I know what Marx said about the idiocy of rural life, but you really should see Prince Edward County. About ninety minutes drive from Toronto, it’s a place where time seems to move a little slower. Beautiful to look at, and filled with interesting things to see, and some very nice wine. Apart from an unfortunate allergy related incident while horse-back riding, a very pleasant week.

4. The Sleaford Mods

No less a person than Iggy Pop proclaimed them one of his favourite bands. Who am I to disagree? Imagine Half-Man Half Biscuit with a keyboard, and a lot more swearing. Definitely NSFW, but  absolutely brilliant. Playing Lee’s Palace in Toronto on April 1st. Got my ticket. Get yours because you’ll be sorry when it sells out.

5. The Exorcist 

I read the book when I was a teen, and even though I was an atheist, I was too scared to see the movie. I still haven’t seen it. The TV series obviously doesn’t compare to the book or I suppose the movie (It’s network TV after all), but it’s one of the most creepy and unsettling things on at the moment. The scene in the first episode in the attic with the possessed daughter is skin-crawling. I can’t imagine how scared I would be if I did believe in God.

6. Kim’s Convenience 

A CBC adaptation of a Soul Pepper play makes for a gentle sit-com. The story of convenience store run by Korean immigrants in the Cabbagetown /Regent Park area of Toronto isn’t ground breaking, but it’s a treat each week.

7. The Royal Ontario Museum

Went yesterday to see the Chihuly exhibit. The exhibit is very cool, although it didn’t move me as some have done. Still, leaving aside the Surrealists critique of museums and art galleries, it’s still a remarkable place to hang out.  Got to pet a live lemur too.

8. Lemur Shirt

And while we’re on the subject of lemurs, I bought a very cool (IMHO) lemur shirt from Frank and Oak – relax, it’s not made of lemurs, it just has lemurs on it. Likewise a camel shirt from the same establishment.


9. At the Existentialist Cafe 

When I was in high school, I read a lot of existentialist literature: Sartre, Camus  and even some of the theory – Being and Nothingness did me in though. Sarah Bakewell’s account of the theory and its leading members is a very readable book, and brought back a lot of happy (?) memories for me. She was even nice enough to reply when I sent her a note.

10. Grand Hotel Abyss

I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that it’s going to be increasingly fashionable to mention the Frankfurt School in the same way it was to slip the Situationists into conversation a few years back. I’m currently about half way through Stuart Jeffries’s book, and am enjoying it immensely. The title is from a critical remark  by Lukacs, but not entirely an unpleasant place to spend one’s time.

11. Young Animal

A new imprint by DC comics and curated by former My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way. If DC’s Vertigo line was horror, Young Animal is surrealism. So far the YA line consists of Cave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye, the Doom Patrol (both written by Way), Mother Panic and my favourite Shade the Changing Girl. Highly recommended.

12. Kensington Market

Between Spadina and Bathurst, and bordered by College and Dundas is Kensington Market, one of my favourite areas of Toronto. Rich ion radical histroy (Emma Goldman lived there, and the Communist Party owned buildings), it’s a fascinating piece of life. Constantly under threat of gentrification, the market continues offering cheap and essential goods often unavailable elsewhere. Yes, some will prefer St. Lawrence, but Kensington has a much more vibrant culture.

13. The Beguiling

The best comic shop in the city and beyond (we can argue about that later). I’ve been a regular at the shop since the 1980’s when it was on Harbourd.  The store is currently moving out of Mirvish Village to make way for condos, but has happily relocated to the Northern border of Kensington which will give me more reasons to spend time there. Haven’t been to the new location yet, but soon…

14. Ms. Anti-Matter Science Wear

OK, their web site is down at the moment, but they have a lot of cool science stuff there. I bought a rather nice caffeine tie from them, and they are regulars at Fan Expo.

15. The Museum of Steam and Technology

Travel down to Hamilton, and you can see this pretty cool place. It’s you’re a steam-punk fan or not, it’s worth a trip to see how the mighty engines of steam worked.

16. The tie clip

You can spend a lot of money on a tie clip, but a cool one attracts conversation (for the record, I usually get them at Kensington Market’s Courage My Love). NEVER use a piece of scotch tape to keep your tie in place. You know who I mean.

17. Endnotes

Time was once my favourite political magazines were Internationalist Perspective, Aufheben and Radical Anthropology. I’m a member of IP,RA seems to have stopped publication, and Aufheben has become leftist in its orientation, but Endnotes is a worthy replacement. The journal is published by former members of Aufheben, and is a dense read (imagine if Conrad wrote political theory), and appears sporadically. I don’t agree with everything in it, but it’s essential reading.

18. Deadpool. 

OK, I had to be convinced to see this one. I didn’t really like the character in the comics, and there’s a lot to dislike about the film: Excessive violence, several ridiculous plot points, the real absence of a plot, questionable C.G.I., and so forth, but for the time Ryan Reynolds is on screen, and he’s on a lot, Deadpool is incredible. Funny as hell. Pure idiot escapism. Can they do it a second time? Probably not, but I can live with that.

19. The Sunshine Grill

My favourite greasy spoon. Apparently, it’s become a chain. I used to go to the one at Yonge and Eglinton, but you can find them across the city and beyond – I took my mum there for Mother’s Day in St. Catharines this year. Cheap, clean and a good selection. And coffee. Lots of coffee.

20. This year’s closing will be short. The final word of Rogue One spoken by Carrie Fisher’s character Princess Leia: “Hope”

Enjoy 2017.



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Music Notes December 2016

December 26, 2016 at 10:49 pm (Uncategorized)

The final notes of the year,a little early. Here goes.

1 Various artists – Sharon Signs to Cherry Red

A magnificent 2 CD set of indie pop, but that’s way too much of an understatement. Over fifty tracks of obscure, often amateurish female singers and bands, and no less wonderful for it. Punk, country, sixties pop. If your grandma gives you some cash for Christmas, use it on this.

2. The Oxford American Music Issue

and if you’ve money left over, this should be your other purchase. A magazine of music writing and  a really terrific CD to go along with it.

3. Cate Le Bon – Crab Day

Poppy, but weird. I know that’s not much if an insight, but Le Bon is a singular talent that’s best appreciated by experiencing rather than reading what I could say about her.

4. Valerie June – “Astral Plane”

New track from Ms. June. New album in the new year, and she’s coming to Toronto in February. Hear it on SoundCloud.

5. PJ Harvey at Massey Hall

I almost missed out on this one. Ms. Harvey will play Massey Hall in April. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this show.

6. Lydia Loveless

Saw her at the Adelaide Hall in November, and I never did write a proper review. Loveless did a solo acoustic set of her own stuff with a few choice covers (Elvis Costello, Justin Bieber) thrown in. An intimate country roots atmosphere. One to watch.

7. Brian Eno – Here Cine The Warm Jets

Eno’s first post Roxy Music album sounds a lot like…Roxy Music. Not entirely surprising as apart from Bryan Ferry, the while band play on it. Still, the more experimental stuff creeps in too. Well worrying seeking out.

8. The Velvet Underground – loaded

Listen to the fully loaded edition on a recent drive to my parents. It seems inconceivable that three years earlier this band made White Light White Heat. Not to diss Loaded but just to note. Still Loaded is a great rock n roll record and you can see why the band broke up when it wasn’t a hit

9. John Critchley – crooked mile

Critchley was the singer and songwriter in 13 Engines a brilliant Toronto band. I believe this was his only solo release. The first half is also brilliant pop rock. Well worth a listen

10. The grim reaper refuses to slow down

In a year where we lost Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen, you’d think that would be enough. Rick Parfitt of Status Quo and yesterday George Michael. Who was the wag who wrote about the only good thing  to happen this year was that Keith Richards didn’t die?

Back in a couple of days with some other stuff from the year in review.




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What Goes Around…

December 16, 2016 at 12:47 pm (Uncategorized)

The latest spin for the Dems loss seems to be that Trump was the recipient of aid from Russia.

But amid the horror that another power interfered in their election, isn’t a little history appropriate too? After all, it’s not unheard of that the US has, er, influenced, the course of elections and politics to get its way

El Salvador
And that’s just in one breath. there’s plenty more. How much time to you have…?




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Lies, Facts and more Lies. And Maybe some truth.

December 14, 2016 at 4:27 pm (Uncategorized)

What was it Churchill said, everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts? Guess that’s not true any more.

I’m not sure if I was amused or terrified (maybe both) by Trump spokesperson Scottie Nell Hughes’ statement recently:

“Well, I think it’s also an idea of an opinion. And that’s—on one hand, I hear half the media saying that these are lies. But on the other half, there are many people that go, ‘No, it’s true.’ And so one thing that has been interesting this entire campaign season to watch, is that people that say facts are facts—they’re not really facts. Everybody has a way—it’s kind of like looking at ratings, or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth, or not truth. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.”

OK, well, all that proves is that Ms. Hughes doesn’t know the difference between a fact and opinion. But it does have remind me of when Humpty Dumpty“ notes when he uses a word “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” Uh huh.

Still, to the main point then,

Anyway Alex Ross’ piece  “The Frankfurt School knew Trump was coming,” has a nice quotation.

 Lies have long legs: they are ahead of their time. The conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power, a process that truth itself cannot escape if it is not to be annihilated by power, not only suppresses truth as in earlier despotic orders, but has attacked the very heart of the distinction between true and false, which the hirelings of logic were in any case diligently working to abolish. So Hitler, of whom no one can say whether he died or escaped, survives. (Adorno)

The whole article is found on the New Yorker’s web site and it makes me want to seek out the new book on the Frankfurt School by Stuart Jeffries Grand Hotel Abyss now half-price at Verso’s site.

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Bob Dylan’s Nobel Acceptance Speech

December 14, 2016 at 1:17 pm (Uncategorized)

And here’s the speech. Dylan’s acceptance speech was read aloud by United States Ambassador to Sweden Azita Raji.

Good evening, everyone. I extend my warmest greetings to the members of the Swedish Academy and to all of the other distinguished guests in attendance tonight.

I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person, but please know that I am most definitely with you in spirit and honored to be receiving such a prestigious prize. Being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is something I never could have imagined or seen coming. From an early age, I’ve been familiar with and reading and absorbing the works of those who were deemed worthy of such a distinction: Kipling, Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Albert Camus, Hemingway. These giants of literature whose works are taught in the schoolroom, housed in libraries around the world and spoken of in reverent tones have always made a deep impression. That I now join the names on such a list is truly beyond words.

 I don’t know if these men and women ever thought of the Nobel honor for themselves, but I suppose that anyone writing a book, or a poem, or a play anywhere in the world might harbor that secret dream deep down inside. It’s probably buried so deep that they don’t even know it’s there.

If someone had ever told me that I had the slightest chance of winning the Nobel Prize, I would have to think that I’d have about the same odds as standing on the moon. In fact, during the year I was born and for a few years after, there wasn’t anyone in the world who was considered good enough to win this Nobel Prize. So, I recognize that I am in very rare company, to say the least.

I was out on the road when I received this surprising news, and it took me more than a few minutes to properly process it. I began to think about William Shakespeare, the great literary figure. I would reckon he thought of himself as a dramatist. The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head. His words were written for the stage. Meant to be spoken not read. When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: “Who’re the right actors for these roles?” “How should this be staged?” “Do I really want to set this in Denmark?” His creative vision and ambitions were no doubt at the forefront of his mind, but there were also more mundane matters to consider and deal with. “Is the financing in place?” “Are there enough good seats for my patrons?” “Where am I going to get a human skull?” I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question “Is this literature?”

 When I started writing songs as a teenager, and even as I started to achieve some renown for my abilities, my aspirations for these songs only went so far. I thought they could be heard in coffee houses or bars, maybe later in places like Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium. If I was really dreaming big, maybe I could imagine getting to make a record and then hearing my songs on the radio. That was really the big prize in my mind. Making records and hearing your songs on the radio meant that you were reaching a big audience and that you might get to keep doing what you had set out to do.

Well, I’ve been doing what I set out to do for a long time, now. I’ve made dozens of records and played thousands of concerts all around the world. But it’s my songs that are at the vital center of almost everything I do. They seemed to have found a place in the lives of many people throughout many different cultures and I’m grateful for that.

But there’s one thing I must say. As a performer I’ve played for 50,000 people and I’ve played for 50 people and I can tell you that it is harder to play for 50 people. 50,000 people have a singular persona, not so with 50. Each person has an individual, separate identity, a world unto themselves. They can perceive things more clearly. Your honesty and how it relates to the depth of your talent is tried. The fact that the Nobel committee is so small is not lost on me.

 But, like Shakespeare, I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters. “Who are the best musicians for these songs?” “Am I recording in the right studio?” “Is this song in the right key?” Some things never change, even in 400 years.

Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, “Are my songs literature?”

So, I do thank the Swedish Academy, both for taking the time to consider that very question, and, ultimately, for providing such a wonderful answer.

 My best wishes to you all,

Bob Dylan

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