Goodbye 2019

December 31, 2019 at 2:55 pm (Uncategorized)

OK, the end of the second decade of the 21st century. Here’s some things that made it a little more bearable.

1 New York

It’s always New York, but this year it wasn’t the city. My wife and I drove down to Storm King Art Center (about an hour north of the city. We saw it on Master of None and it looked like fun. But the cool thing was the Dia: Beacon art Gallery just a few miles away.  Very cool modern art exhibits and atmosphere.

2. The Royal Ontario Museum 

OK, I’m a bit of a museum nerd (remembering of course the Situationists’ critique of art galleries can also apply to museums). I’m OK with that. As with every year, the ROM has had some wonderful exhibits: Old horror posters, nature photography, Rajpoor. Haven’t made it to the Bloodsuckers exhibit, but it’s on the agenda.

3.  Luna 

I saw Luna a few years back at the Music Hall , but this fall, we went to see Luna perform their best album Penthouse in its entirety at Lee’s Place. Tremendous show. Live music, when it’s good, is one of the great things in life. You become a part of something larger than yourself and in a world where we are continually isolated, that’s not a bad thing.

4. The Beguiling

The best comic book shop in Toronto. Hands down. Yes, they have all the traditional fare, but they also have less mainstream materials, and a friendly knowledgeable staff. And now, with the pending publication of Magician A, they moves beyond distributor into publisher. A braver newer world!

5. L.L. Bean

Bought a fall jacket from the US mail-order retailer this year. More expensive than I wanted, but it looked soooo good, I knew that owning it would make me happier. And it did (side note, the first time I wore it, I got sick and spent the day sitting in Emergency at the North York General Hospital, but I don’t think it was connected to the coat)

6. Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Season 1 of Killing Eve and especially season 2 of Fleabag represent some of the greatest TV I watched this year. (I hear she’s going to appear in the third season of Killing Eve in order to be killed by Villenelle)

7. Good Omens 

I have a Neil Gaiman autographed copy of Good Omens from the late 1980s. I re-read the book before I watched the TV adaptation. The book was great, and you know what, so was the adaptation. I don’t think I could have imagined a more perfect couple that David Tennant and Michael Sheen. Terrific.

8. Krautrock

I was a child of ’77. OK, I was a little too young to fully appreciate the first wave of punk, and I didn’t live in a big city , so I missed out. Still, if you’d told me I’d be seriously into German experimental rock, I would have been amused. But Can, Neu!, and even Kraftwerk show up on my listening faves these days. Just goes to show, you never know…

9.  Peaky Blinders

If the Sopranos were set in Birmingham after the First World War, it might almost be as good as this show. Binge-watching the show these days. (Fans should probably take out a subscription to The Chap as well)

10. Patriot Act 

Hasan Minhaj’s weekly hip pop-culture news show doesn’t always land, but when it does, it kills. The episode on Canada days before Justin Trudeau’s blackface scandal broke was priceless.

11. Instagram

Really? Yeah. My daughter went to Italy this summer, and I knew she would post pictures on her Instagram account. So, I created my own. No surprise, I kept the account and post. Mostly, pictures of bands, comic, books and dog, (a bit like my Twitter account), but actually I quite like looking at things other people have posted.

12. The Boys

Imagine the Justice League were arseholes. And that’s pretty much the show. For those people who don’t like superheroes, here’s a reason to both confirm and shake your opinions. (Also, recognizing where in Hamilton and Toronto they shot the thing)

13. Coffee

I drink too much coffee, but a good strong cup is one of the great things in life. (I’m quite partial to a flat white as well)

14. David Graeber

American anthropologist and anarchist. Read Bullshit Jobs and Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology this year. The Utopia of Rules is near the top of the pile.

15. Patti Smith 

Read Year of the Monkey on a plane this year. Reading Smith is like a conversation with your cool hippie aunt. All the while, you’re noting other things to check out after you’ve finished this amazing chat.

16. Mark Millar’s The Magic Order 

A cross between Harry Potter and the Sopranos. And really, that says it all. Netflix is making a TV version too.

17. The Witcher 

A few months back, I hadn’t heard of this popular Polish fantasy series. Read one of the short story collections, and watched the Netflix adaptation (the multiple unannounced story lines make it unnecessarily confusing, but still quite amazing) If you still miss Game of Thrones

18. Walking the dog 

Of course, Lester made the list this year (again). But rather than the unconditional love or the series of seemingly endless awwww moments, walking the dog is the focus. Sure, when it’s snowing or pouring with rain, walking the dog isn’t exactly a treat, but that period of time when it’s just you and the hound alone is priceless. You can think your own thoughts, you can just…be.

19. Conan

I read the comics as a kid. Then I read Robert E Howard’s short stories. I even watched a few of the dreadful movie adaptations (OK, all of them). But this year, Marvel reacquired the rights and began publishing new stories – the comics also have  short stories as back up. A joyful distraction from the world.

20. The Future

I’m 55 years old, and given what seems to be coming (see yesterday’s post), it’s easy to become discouraged. I work in a job with teens. Teenagers can be difficult (I have two of my own), but they are also inspiring. To be a part of their lives as they discover the world is one of the best parts of my life. They’re fearless, bold, resourceful, amazingly and talented, but best of all they’re not cynical. They believe they can change the world. That’s the spirit I want to take forward, and the one we should carry in our hearts. Want to see how society can change? Look to young people for a better world.

See ya in 2020


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Down in the Tube Station at Midnight

December 30, 2019 at 7:17 pm (Uncategorized)

From 1978, the Jam.

The distant echo
Of faraway voices boarding faraway trains
To take them home to
The ones that they love and who love them forever
The glazed, dirty steps
Repeat my own and reflect my thoughts
Cold and uninviting, partially naked
Except for toffee wrappers and this morning’s papers
Mr. Jones got run down
Headlines of death and sorrow, they tell of tomorrow
Madmen on the rampage
And I’m down in the tube station at midnight, oh
I fumble for change, and pull out the Queen
Smiling, beguiling
I put in the money and pull out a plum
Behind me
Whispers in the shadows, gruff blazing voices
Hating, waiting
“Hey boy” they shout, “Have you got any money?”
And I said, “I’ve a little money and a takeaway curry
I’m on my way home to my wife
She’ll be lining up the cutlery, you know she’s expecting me
Polishing the glasses and pulling out the cork”
I’m down in the tube station at midnight, oh
I first felt a fist, and then a kick
I could now smell their breath
They smelt of pubs, and wormwood scrubs
And too many right wing meetings
My life swam around me
It took a look and drowned me in its own existence
The smell of brown leather
It blended in with the weather
Filled my eyes, ears, nose and mouth, it blocked all my senses
Couldn’t see, hear, speak any longer
I’m down in the tube station at midnight, oh
I said I was down in the tube station at midnight, oh
The last thing that I saw as I lay there on the floor
Was “Jesus saves” painted by an atheist nutter
And a British rail poster read
“Have an away day, a cheap holiday, do it today”
I glanced back on my life, and thought about my wife
‘Cause they took the keys, and she’ll think it’s me
I’m down in the tube station at midnight
The wine will be flat and the curry’s gone cold
I’m down in the tube station at midnight, ohDon’t want to go down in a tube station at midnight, oh
Don’t want to go down in a tube station at midnight, oh
Don’t want to go down in a tube station at midnight, oh
Don’t want to go down in a tube station at midnight, oh

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Media Overload

December 30, 2019 at 7:05 pm (Uncategorized)

This blog started after I finished the seven-year run of a print publication Red & Black Notes The early years of the blog were a good deal more active, but my pace of posting has slowly dramatically. Partly a result of other commitments, but also a feeling of being overwhelmed by thee world.

I was talking to my son this morning about the seemingly endless end of year and end of decade news stories. I wondered if he thought the decade has a “feel” to it like the 90’s or the 60’s. His response was that he was only 7 at the beginning of the decade, so he wasn’t really in a position to judge, but then the conversation shifted to social media.

Think about this: Once upon a time, people got their news from newspapers. When I was a kid in England there were seemingly dozens of major newspapers (reflecting political interest), which published two editions a day The TV news was on at six and eleven (or was it ten)., and that was it. Yes, there was radio, but that tended to be sandwiched between the pop hits and traffic. Talk radio was not yet a real thing. CNN was founded in 1980, and while it took almost a decade and a war in the Gulf for it to truly change things, change things it did.

Instead of news being delivered at scheduled times, it was on-air 24/7. Now a lot of news operated on a loop, but it was nevertheless relentless. The gradual dominance of the internet and the smart phone have only deepened that experience (for example in 2001, when the 9/11 attacks took place, we raced to the TV; today, we would reach into our pockets for cellular devices)

And that relentlessness is driving us crazy:

  • Wildfires in Australia (the extinction of the koala)
  • The mainstreaming of antisemitism
  • Britain chose Boris Johnson
  • The re-emergence of communalism in India (the RSS)
  • Every-man Canadian politician Andrew Scheer uses tax payer money to send his kids to private school
  • Grete Thunberg
  • TRUMP (from kids in cages to  Home Alone 2)
  • Violence and prejudice against the transgender community
  • An almost daily barrage of mass shootings
  • A Florida couple arresting for selling golden tickets to Heaven.

OK, that last one turned out to be false, but it’s one that could easily have been true


Maybe watch the most recent episode of Patriot Act 

Close a couple of tabs on your mental browser and focus on what’s important to you. I’ll be posting my list of things that helped me get through this year later.

Happy 2020





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Music Notes December 2019

December 26, 2019 at 3:19 pm (Uncategorized)

Final notes of the year. A few days early for once.

1 Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep Where do we Go?

Took me a while to get into this one; perhaps it was the hype around it. Still, once you get past any prejudices and listen, it’s really quite a remarkable thing: A variety of styles and sounds, poppy and gothy, vocals whispered and sung.  Spend some time investigating this one.

2. Robert Gordon – King Biscuit Flower Hour 

Upfront, I really like this series of live recordings. Robert Gordon of course is a class all of his own. Part revivalist, part re-interpreter. This live piece dating from 1979 features a set from Rock Billy Boogie album, and has the legendary Chris Spedding on guitar. Epic.

3. Various artists – C-88

Another in the expanded CD series following the original C-86 compilation. I really love these releases. Some bands have only a song or two in their lives before they disappear, and it’s wonderful to hear a slice of a year with the hits. Some duff stuff, but some quite amazing acts too with Madchester and grunge on the horizon.

4. Various artists Peaky Blinders s/t

Any soundtrack that features generous helpings of Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, and Anna Calvi is worth your time. I’m gradually working my way through the show, and this is just lovely.

5. Big Thief – Two Hands 

Read an interview with them, checked out the album. Good choice. Big Thief are a Brooklyn based rock-folk band. Passionate vocals from Adrienne Lenker and some grungy guitar sounds. My new favoutite band.

6. The Damned – Phantasmagoria

By this point in their career, the Damned were fully immersed in the neo-psychedelic sound. Captain Sensible had left, and Dave Vanian’s vision seemed to be the one driving the show. Not my favourite Damned album, but some good tunes. Bonus disc has demos, alternative takes and some live stuff.

7.  The White Stripes “Fell in Love with a Girl” Block kit

I didn’t get this for Christmas, but c’mon have a look at this idea

8 Mazzy Star – She Hangs Brightly 

The first Mazzy Star album is a bit of a work in progress. It pulls in several directions: country, folk, even some up-tempo songs before settling into the familiar druggy groove. Eclipsed by later work, She Hangs Brightly is still a solid album.

9. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps 

If you’re looking for an emotional place to rest with an affecting singer-songwriter, this is for you.

10.  Roy Loney

And let’s pause to remember the passing of original Flamin’ Groovies member Roy Loney who was part of the group for Supersnazz, Flamingo and Teenage Head . Loney died December 13 at the age of 73.

Hope your holidays are going well, and you’ve gotten to listen to plenty of great tunes.

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Merry Marxmas – 2019

December 25, 2019 at 1:36 pm (Uncategorized)

Yeah, I know it’s a bit workerist, but I couldn’t find one that said “Abolition of the value form”


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The Elections in Britain

December 17, 2019 at 12:57 am (Uncategorized)

Last Thursday, faced with a choice of a Labour Party riven with factions , self-doubt and a full-blown identity crisis and the most right-wing Conservative Party in decades, British voters massively chosen the latter; the greater of two evils.

Still, despite the promise of a return to the rather non-existent glory days of Labour policies of the Corbynites, it seems hard to accept that Boris Johnson was a more appetizing prospect for voters. For like Trump when you begin listing negative adjectives before his name, you quickly realize what a long sentence it is going to be: The narcissism, the self-promotion to the extent of all else, the calculated every-man facade of a man of privilege, the lies, the homophobia, the anti-Muslim racism, the opportunism, etc, etc. I’ll leave it to others to offer detailed Monday morning quartebacking, but I’ll offer these predictions:

  1. Brexit is now a done deal. The Remain forces were routed, and nothing can stop the exit. It’ll also be a disaster.
  2. Racism and Anglo-chauvinism will flourish, mildly criticized, but with a wink to those in the know that their actions are sanctioned. According to reports, it’s already begun.
  3. A continued shift toward executive power and authoritarianism in Britain
  4. Cuts, cuts, cuts to social services; cuts cuts, cuts to wealth taxes
  5. Endless dreary commentary about the direction the Labour Party should follow

And so it goes…



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