Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Things I will likely not see: Rodney DeCroo in Blackbird

My health issues are going to keep me from a few cool things this month. Having had my third procedure for kidney stones earlier today, I doubt very much that I will be well enough for the Pointed Sticks on the 23rd at the Byrd in Surrey (though I have a plug for it on the Straight website, comin' soon, talking with Nick Jones). I have done nothing so far on Bison's Earthbound 11th anniversary show March 28th at the Rickshaw, and may continue to do nothing, including missing the show, though it is very cool that Brad will be back on drums for the occasion. It's gonna be kinda interesting because I have long acclimatized myself to Matt Wood's very different style. Plus I assume this is the gig Dan And was telling me would see "Wendigo" back on their setlist! I am hoping that by March 30th I will have the mojo to go to a few gigs of Slow's momentous ten-night-stand at the Penthouse. (I also have something coming up with Tom on that topic on the Straight website, which has some real eye-opening backstory about the titles for "I Broke the Circle" and Against the Glass). But if today's lithotripsy works, I might start peeing chunks soon, so... how will that feel? Will I want to go out if I need to scream when I pee?


It is also unlikely I will see Rodney DeCroo in Blackbird, a play that takes in the topic of sexual abuse (a different production of it, with Jeff Daniels and Michelle Williams, is described here; the Straight has something on the Vancouver production of it here). It opens tonight, I gather, in a $10 preview version. It ain't nothin' against the play - I talked to Rodney about his most recent album, Old Tenement Man, here, count myself an admirer of his work, and would probably enjoy the play a whole lot. (I've even picked up and read a poem or two from his most recent book every time I pass through a Book Warehouse, but I haven't committed quite yet there). Theatre is something I almost never do, but a gritty local production of a well-received play, featuring someone I know and respect in a lead role... it sounds pretty cool. (I also have had, disturbingly, an almost identical shirt-and-tie combo to the one Rodney appears to be wearing, above). A description of the content, from the Blackbird press kit:

When Una was 12 and Ray was 40, they had a three-month long sexual relationship. Ray was sent to prison, served his sentence, changed his name and began a new life. Now, fifteen years later, Una has tracked him down to confront him in his workplace. But what does she want? 
“… is Una, the young woman in the play, after revenge or closure, or does she want to restart it? Is Ray, who has been sent to prison and is (he claims) attempting to rebuild his life, a mendacious aggressor, or as much of a victim as she is?… …questions far outnumber the answers…” –The Guardian, 2017 
David Harrower captures the bewildering and brutal realities that victims of sex abuse often face as they grow older. We follow Una on her confusing journey, as she navigates the conflict of her young infatuation with Ray, and her adult understanding of the trauma that came of his actions. Harrower masterfully orchestrates her emotional roller coaster and does not shy away from the tough questions, while providing no easy answers. 
“I distrust statements,” Harrower says, “I want to undercut them, look under them.” –The Guardian 2017 
Harrower writes Ray with surgical accuracy, as a fully fleshed out human being, with his own defenses and reasoning that he has created around his actions. This invites the audience to see Ray in a light different than just a base monster, and to empathize with him, a position that creates the same kind of confusion in the audience as it does in Una. 
UNA: You were looking at me. At the barbecue
RAY: No.
UNA: I saw you
RAY: I wasn’t
UNA: I felt you
RAY: I looked at you. I wasn’t looking. 
One Story’s production is directed by David Bloom, known for such hard-hitting works as Und (Felix Culpa), and The Monument (Felix Culpa/Rumble Productions). This show will introduce Vancouver theatre goers to Panthea Vatandoost, a Leo nominee for Sahar, as Una. Renowned singer/songwriter/poet and actor Rodney DeCroo plays Ray. Stephanie Wong, (The Aliens) is production designer and the stage management team is Samantha Pawliuk and Emily Doreen Wilson. 
Blackbird runs Wednesdays through Sundays, March 21—31 at Backspace 1318 Grant Street – Alley Entrance. Performance times 8:00 pm, Saturday/Sunday pay-what-you-will matinĂ©es 2:00 pm. Tickets $15.00 online, $20.00 at the door. $10.00 previews March 21, 22
Sounds meaty and real. Now that I write this I'm wondering if maybe I can make it one night? At the very least I'll forward this link to a friend or two... least I can do...

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

My 50th Birthday Movie event: Suburbia (the Penelope Spheeris one, that is)

So: for my 50th birthday party, I'm getting to curate a film: Penelope Spheeris' under-rated 1983 "punxploitation" follow up to The Decline of Western Civilization, Suburbia, screening March 12th at the Vancity Theatre. Here are eight good reasons to come see it!

1. You like me! (I only turn 50 once, on March 7th, in fact, and I don't curate film events very often).

2. You like Flea! Yes, before he was famous, I think even before he was in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flea was a punk, who played in Fear (and I believe a few other California punk bands - I had heard he was in the Circle Jerks for awhile, and I believe he has a Black Flag tattoo, though I don't know if he was actually ever in Black Flag). He kind of steals the show here, as he tends to do, acting under the name "Mike B. the Flea" as a rat-loving street punk named Razzle, living with a group of other LA punk kids in an abandoned suburb. Ever wanted to see Flea put a live rat in his mouth? Here's your chance! (No rats are harmed). And who can forget the "Happy Easter, Asshole" scene?

3. You like a good exploitation film! This film - not to be confused with the stilted 1990's Linklater/ Bogosion slacker comedy of the same name - was produced by none other than Roger Corman and is very similar in respects to a lot of Corman's classic AIP exploitation dramas and of the 60's and 70's, containing the same sort of unsubtle social commentary you get in classic blaxploitation cinema, the same feel for youth that you see in his drug films like The Trip or Psychout, at least some of the same sensationalism of vintage women in prison movies (even a bit of lesbianism!), and a straights-versus-outsiders plot that you get in biker movies. There are certainly documentary elements to the film - a cast of real punks, for one, real bands, real concerts, presumably real locations (like the housing complex where the kids are squatting, sort of foreshadowing the squats of Decline of Western Civilization III). It has the same unexpected authenticity that a lot of the Corman films have (I mean, they're always a bit cheesy, but for a B-movie huckster, his productions often do more justice to their subject matter than their "serious" A-list contemporaries).

4. You like punk music! The Vandals - the original Vandals, with Stevo - kind of steal the show with "The Legend of Pat Brown," which appears to be about a cop killer (?! - "he's no zero/ he's a fuckin' hero!" But D.I. also performs "Richard  Hung Himself" - later covered by Slayer; and there are, if memory serves, two clips of vintage Jack Grisham TSOL. There's also punk all over the soundtrack, and a cast of real punks (including, I gather from comrades at the Straight, the female drummer from the Butthole Surfers, back in the day, trying to sell her pap smear); Penelope Spheeris said something at the time about how she was operating on the principle that you could train a punk to act but you couldn't train an actor to be a punk (though she tried with a subsequent film, Dudes, which I haven't seen in years and can't comment on; it's got John Cryer and the chubby murderer-dude from River's Edge, whose name, if I recall right, is Daniel Roebuck. All of this is long before Wayne's World).

5. You like Penelope Spheeris! ('nuff said, I hope, but certainly this film and the first and third Decline films are essential seeing for anyone who cares about punk cinema).

6. You like live music! We will have a guest, Jeff Andrew. I picked Jeff for this event because: a) his music works great in a solo acoustic context; b) for a folky kinda guy, he has pretty impressive punk credentials, having appeared on the final album by the Rebel Spell, co-writing a song with them; and because c) Todd Serious, the departed frontman of that band, was a big supporter of Jeff's, was the man, in fact, who turned me on to Jeff's music. Jeff is a very, very gifted songwriter in his own right, and songs like "Professional Asshole" - about cops abusing authority - to me have the classic feel of the very best (punk or folk or what-have-you) protest songwriting; I am sure Phil Ochs would have been impressed. Read Jeff on Todd Serious and the writing of "The Tsilhqot'in War" here...

7. And at the risk of opening old wounds, for fans of the Rebel Spell, I hope to play a couple of videos by the band as an added bonus, in tribute to Todd, who actually died ON MY BIRTHDAY, on March 7th, 2015 (March 12th might well be the anniversary of the day I found out about it - I was sitting at work at PGIC, in the computer lab downstairs, planning a lesson, when Adrian Mack called me to ask me if I'd heard. He was momentarily freaked out when I asked if it was rock climbing accident, like I was psychic or something, but it really wasn't a tough thing to guess; Todd had been injured previously in rock climbing accidents, which we'd talked about. Anyhow, the Rebel Spell remain one of my all-time favourite punk bands. I believe members of the band are going to come to the screening, and I might try to play some clips of both the Rebel Spell and maybe one or two bands from the Rebel Spell's diaspora...

The Rebel Spell at Adstock in Maple Ridge, photo by me!

8. And hell, I dunno what else you need to come see this event, but hopefully a few of my friends (and Facebook friends) will be there. I usually give out a couple of prizes - not sure what those will be this year. There is a bar at the Vancity, just like the Rio. Real comfy seats; Jeff will be playing in the atrium, so it's really easy to grab a beer while you watch. And, you know, how often have you heard of Suburbia playing THEATRICALLY in Vancouver? (I don't know if it has EVER played theatrically here, actually, or anywhere in Canada; it's kind of an under-seen, under-discussed classic).

I will have an interview online SOMEWHERE (take a guess where) with Penelope Spheeris on this film, before it screens, but seriously, folks, if any of the above moves you, come see Suburbia at the Vancity Theatre on March 12th. I promise it will be entertaining. I mean - *I'm* going to be there, and I still bleed when I pee!

See you there! Happy birthday to me...! (I'd add "rest in peace" for Todd, but "peace" seems like a strangely inappropriate thing to wish on Todd, akin to "old age" or "mediocrity" or something. In any event, I miss you, man).

Saturday, March 03, 2018

On Eli Roth's Death Wish

Note: apologies to Joe Carnahan - I HAD noticed his name in the credits (and based on Narc and The Grey, count myself as a fan) but I didn't know what to make of it, and didn't know ANY of the sad history of his screenplay (which you can read in the original here - thanks for that, David M.!). I am sure Carnahan's version would have been better. Anyhow, he doesn't get mentioned at all in what follows, but from what I gather, it wasn't much of "his" screenplay anymore at all (he left the project when the producers insisted on Bruce Willis). Hope he got a paycheque out of it, at least.  

I don't consider myself a total vulgarian when it comes to cinema. There is crap I enjoy - including the original Charles Bronson Death Wish movies, which I wrote about here; Cinema Sewer's Robin Bougie got me on a Bronson kick awhile ago and I really quite enjoyed myself. But simplistic and sleazy and crudely-made as such movies may be, I think the question of vigilantism is a very interesting one, not entirely irrelevant to my interest in punk rock (CF. Gerry Hannah's comments about Direct Action and vigilantes in Susanne Tabata's Bloodied But Unbowed). Sometimes crappy, sleazy movies can raise interesting questions, speak to aspects of society in a way that is potent, honest and unpretentious (no one \accused Bronson of being pretentious ever, I should imagine). And sometimes sleazy action films and thrillers do things that rival Un Chien Andalou in their capacity to unsettle, that can be quite startling and psychologically revealing, in ways more genteel, "mature" films rarely are.

Take Eli Roth's first two Hostel movies. While paid newspaper-type movie critics - mostly jobbers who trade in moral outrage and middlebrow mediocrity, seldom saying much of interest at all, often just jumping from one predictable bandwagon to the next - dismissed Roth's two best films as grindhouse "torture porn," I  would be hard-pressed to name any 21st century horror franchise that interested me half as much, and I entirely bought Roth's protestations on the Hostel II commentary that the film was meant as a sort of political protest against GW Bush's America, that it was a film about exploiting, torturing, and killing people for profit (among other things - there's also a whole subtext in the film about beauty and female competiveness, grounded by an incredibly brave performance from Heather Matarazzo, whose death scene is maybe the most upsetting scene in any movie I've seen, shy of Salo). When I applied to the Master's Program at Film Studies at UBC (which I was not admitted to, and nevermore shall attempt to access, because, well, just fuck'em), the main thing I was interested in writing about was transformative ordeals and class rage in what I was calling urban/ rural horror movies - a phrase I thought I had picked up from Carol J. Clover, but which I don't think she actually uses. Her chapter on rape revenge movies and the city versus the country in Men, Women and Chainsaws is some of the most provocative film writing I've read - and can be productively applied far beyond her scope (which mostly focuses on Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes, Hunter's Blood, and, of course, I Spit On Your Grave). If you get thinking about it, her analysis - that such films allow people further up the class ladder than the downtrodden to guiltlessly act out their rage at the poor, for MAKING them feel guilty in the first place - lends great depth to the Hostel franchise, which swaps out rural America in favour of economically-depressed Eastern Europe. It's part of a growing tendancy to use the developing world in the place of the dirt-poor, rapey hillbillies of Deliverance (see also, say, Turistas, for a Latin example. or The Ruins, or Borderland; there are others). There's lots I can say on the topic - there's a pretty good book in it, actually, on the globalization of urban/ rural horror... 

...but suffice it to say that I really, really liked the Hostel movies - especially part two, which is just jam-packed with ideas about class and gender and beauty and power and capitalism. It's one of the smartest, richest horror films I've seen, with its brilliance lying in part in the fact that it draws on a very simple template (but tweaks it and complicates it).  I spent a few years forcing friends to watch Roth, even got my wife, who doesn't like horror that much, to watch Hostel  (though she disliked it enough that I haven't pressed Hostel 2, the better film, on her... yet. There is almost no point, since I would probably have to just fast forward through Heather's big scene, which is just so cruel and heartbreaking and ugly that I couldn't bear to expose her to it, as important a scene as it is). 

Alas, I haven't been that impressed with anything Eli Roth has done since: acting kinda badly in a weaker Tarantino and the one Latin horror film I caught him in (Aftershock) didn't do anything to vindicate my enthusiasm for him, and while The Green Inferno and Knock Knock were both decent enough - I liked The Green Inferno the second time through far better than I did the first, after my expectations had been suitably lowered -  they weren't as original or striking as the first two Hostel films, with the first being a genre homage and the second a flat-out remake, if memory serves. I began to worry that Roth's early brilliance would prove to be as temporary as Tarantino's, if, as so often happens in American cinema, success would spoil him in one way or another (Because I haven't loved anything QT has done since Jackie Brown, you know? And I flat out disliked his last two features,  albeit in very different ways).  

Anyhow, having read Brian Garfield's original novel; having seen all the Bronson Death Wish films, and several other Bronsons besides; having seen Death Wish knockoffs like Harry Brown and The Brave One, having greatly enjoyed James "Saw" Wan's Death Sentence, based on Garfield's follow up novel to Death Wish, and much truer to Garfield's intended message; and having even watched Zebedy Colt's bizarre, transgressive, and disturbing porn ripoff of Death Wish, Sex Wish... I was actually really excited to hear that Eli Roth was taking on Death Wish, and I thought it brilliant that he had cast Bruce Willis in the lead role. It seemed a perfect choice, especially if Roth was planning to do anything remotely transgressive or fresh with his text. He had every opportunity - to make a film that stood to the original Death Wish films as Unforgiven stood to earlier, more violent Clint Eastwood fare, or that took in, say, a film like Falling Down (which speaks to the put-upon white male vigilante, with some fairly overt political messaging). Willis has long been - especially in the first Die Hard and The Last Boy Scout - sort of a poster-boy for put-upon white male rage; who better could Roth possibly cast in the role of Paul Kersey - especially if Roth intended to subvert Kersey's vengeful rage, query it, make it an uncomfortable place for the viewer to access? (Which, by the way, is what Wan does with Death Sentence, making it very clear in a way the Bronson franchise never did that VIGILANTISM IS BAD, that it leads to a dehumanized, ugly place; Kevin Bacon ends up far uglier than the monsters he's dispatching, and the film ends up no advertisement for taking the law into your own hands). Garfield had always disliked the Death Wish franchise for making his story into something pro-vigilante, turning Kersey into a sort of folk hero.... and I always felt bad for him, because the book, while uncomfortable, even painful to read, has brilliance to it. Roth could right that old wrong, amp up the damaged, racist, angry aspects of his main character's descent, and maybe even end the film with a surprise twist, like having Kersey get shot and killed at the end by a black man, say. There are a billion interesting and provocative things to be said about gun violence and racial tension in America right now; and if you're going to address such issues through an exploitation film - especially a remake - what better source text to choose than Death Wish?

You see, all the hand-flapping bandwagon-jumping critics who,  when the Death Wish trailer broke, posted articles about how tone-deaf, ill-timed, and insensitive it was for Roth to resurrect this franchise...? They were TOTALLY WRONG. It was, all along, a potentially brilliant move. If Roth did something as brave and confrontational as he did with the Hostel films, if he took a few risks - I thought - and ventured to rub his audience's noses in their desires and prejudices, he could make an INCREDIBLY timely and politically significant film, show that his finger was in fact RIGHT on the pulse of American violence, maybe even digging his thumbnail into it a bit. IT COULD HAVE BEEN GREAT. I spent months salivating, even interviewed Robin Bougie about his reactions to the trailer. (I avoided watching it, myself, lest it sully my excitement). Despite the early shit reviews - which were totally predictable, given the current state of critical culture -  I still made my way off my sickbed to see the film on opening night at Metrotown, last night, with at least somewhat high hopes still intact. 

Sometimes you need to have a movie you have hopes for, you know?

And while I enjoyed myself - it's a fine, fun "homage" to the Bronson films, and if you like those, you'll probably enjoy it well enough - I must say that my main reaction was disappointment. I try NOT in general to review a film against what I had HOPED it was going to be, but it's impossible for me to do otherwise here, since my hopes were so high and played so much of a role in my going to see it last night: I had hoped this film would do something inspired and original with the Death Wish mythos, and that it would vindicate all the long hours I have spent arguing against the "torture porn" Roth-dismissers out there. 

Sigh. Turns out the film is merely okay. It is assembled well-enough, in terms of editing and photography and scoring and pacing - it is a competent bit of crap, vastly better-made than any of the original Death Wishes, for one thing (none of which look that good, and especially not the first one). Some of the overhead traffic shots are just great. Some of the action scenes play out very crisply. There's a bit of interesting commentary on social media, with Willis watching a clip of himself in action on the internet and approving, even smiling. I like the score. Even AC/DC is well-used - how is it that "Back in Black" hasn't been in a movie until now? (Or has it been...?). 

All of that is not enough by far - especially when MOST of the key players in the film appear to be beyond Roth's capacity to direct. Bruce Willis, Elizabeth Shue, and Dean Norris all look like actors delivering lines through most of the film (with Willis basically re-visiting the ground covered in the vastly fresher Unbreakable: he seems sad and mournful even before the home invasion that so damages his family, so you never really feel the depths of his grief or rage, afterwards; he's basically in sad-sack mode the whole fuckin' film, turning in a performance that actually is WEAKER, acting-wise, than Charles Bronson's - which, much as I like Charles Bronson, is really SAYING something). Vincent D'Onofrio, on the other hand, almost overacts his role, running a bit too far with it, like he's compensating for Willis' lack of expressivity, panicking a little at how stiff everyone else is; he borders on the hammy at times, which doesn't help matters. There are a few relative unknowns who do decent work in the film - Camila Morrone, as Jordan Kersey, or Beau Knapp as Knox, to name two - but the only name actor present who actually submits a memorable performance is Stephen McHattie, who has a minute-long cameo in the film, where he bursts in a room, EXPLODES with actorly power, and then leaves, putting everyone else in the film to shame. His lines are NOT "you call this acting? Where the fuck did you learn to act, in a TV commercial? You assholes aren't acting. THIS is acting, for fucksake. NOW SHAPE UP!" That is NOT what he says, but that's kind of what you take away from his scene. 

I love Stephen McHattie. I like that Roth cast him, obviously just for the sake of having McHattie in the film, briefly. 

It still is nowhere near enough to save the movie. Where the film is really disappointing is in its completely not living up to ANY of the potential it has. Does it offer anything new or fresh or interesting? Does it say anything that the original Death Wish films didn't? Does it do anything remotely inspired or creative, beyond having Kersey watchin' himself kill people online?

Okay, there's one pretty great, gory torture scene in it, but I always held that Roth, at his best, was about a LOT more than "torture porn." Maybe his naysayers have convinced him, finally, that that's a suitable ghetto for him to occupy, though? When the only remotely fresh scene in the film is, in fact, a scene of torture... it makes me wonder if maybe I had Roth wrong all along? Maybe Hostel II isn't the inspired, provocative masterpiece of contemporary horror that I always took it for? ...or maybe he just got lucky, had a couple of good ideas early on, then made a lot of money and got lazy or just plumb ran out of new things to say? 

It wouldn't be the first time, in American cinema, that that's happened.

Eli Roth's Death Wish did not offend me. I enjoyed it well enough - if you like a good violent shoot-em-up kinda film, if you like Charles Bronson or Bruce Willis movies, you'll probably enjoy it just fine. It is no more dangerous or tasteless than most other action films out there; if it remains in line with the reactionary tendencies of the original franchise - if we started condeming American movies for being reactionary, there wouldn't be many of them left that we could watch. The film is a purely passable entertainment. Someone who has never seen a Charles Bronson film might even find it an agreeable gateway drug. 

But I sure didn't care about it, and I'd really hoped to. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Kidney Stone blues

First off, I'm all right. I have a puppy training pad stuffed in my shorts as I write this - basically a giant, folded maxi-pad, in case I dribble; they were much, much cheaper than an adult diaper, which is what I was sent home in. (Thanks to my smart wife for this brainflash; puppy pads can be purchased at any Dollarama and cost a fraction of their human equivalent, for those of you with incontinence issues). Now that the anaesthetic has worn off, the dribbling appears to have stopped, but it burns a bit in my urethra when I urinate; my pee has a pinkish hue (or did yesterday); and it doesn't take long for my bladder to feel uncomforably, even painfully full. Plus I have a bit of constipation, also caused, I think, by the anaesthetic.

But for a guy who had tubes stuffed up his dick yesterday, I'm doing just fine. 

I also still have a kidney stone, 6X9 mm, jammed up my left ureter, apparently exactly where it was before I went to the hospital. I would feel much, much better about my experience yesterday had it actually been effective in removing this blockage. My urologist DID manage to get a stent into my ureter, so the urine can now flow around my stone - which is definitely something - but - I had not realized this - apparently yesterday's treatment was kind of exploratory, of a "let's go in and see what we can do" variety.

The answer, sadly, was "not much."

Pretty sure my urologist was more definitive when he initially described the procedure to me two weeks ago, but okay, whatever: apparently my kidney stone is not in a place where it is accessible. The lasers and cameras and other mysterious technology that went up my penis, through my bladder, and into my ureter yesterday could not get far enough up into my tubing, as my buddy Mark has put it, to "blow up my Death Star." So I will have to go for a different procedure, involving heavy vibrations, at VGH. I'm not even sure what the hell it is called, or what the side effects to THAT will be. (No one warned me about urinary incontinence yesterday, though in hindsight, it makes sense; what will being vigorously vibrated about the guts do, I wonder?). Maybe I would rather have cut to the chase, on that, and spared myself the experience yesterday, had I known it might not be effective, but I guess I'll try to have some equanimity here. I got a stent. I am almost fully recovered. It was nowhere near as bad as I imagined it would be.

And while it may not have actually solved my problem, it was still an interesting experience, as those of you who follow me on Facebook will know. I got to have my feet in stirrups, just like a woman giving birth. (I was pretty much knocked out by that point, with a spinal shot and a general sedative, so my memories aren't very clear about that. I kinda wish I had pictures to show of it). I spent about three hours numb from the waist down, with nurses using ice to determine how effective the freezing was, moving it down my body to see where I was frozen up to ("is it cold?" became yesterday's equivalent of "Is it safe?"). I got to have first hand experience of the whole "wiggle your big toe" trip from Kill Bill, which scene I have new appreciation of. (Apparently my left big toe comes out of anaesthetic much faster than my right). And I had the singularly strange experience of feeling like there was some sort of small stuffed animal in bed with me, an odd lump between my legs that, on further investigation, turned out to be my penis. (As senstation returned to my feet and groin it felt like my dick and balls and the bottoms of my feet were all made of pillows).

And while the what's-that-oh-it's-my-dick moment was probably the high point of weirdnesses, there were, indeed others. At some point, for instance, I apparently involuntarily ejaculated, with no erection, because I could sniff semen on my fingers after touching myself. When I could finally stand, in order to demonstrate to the nurses that I could urinate and was therefore fit to be discharged, I got to Tim Conway my way from the bed to the bathroom, leaning  into the porter with my IV bags on it, dribbling urine every step of the way. Usually Erika gets annoyed with  me when I pee on the floor, but apparently yesterday I had a free pass. It has, further, been some time since I wore a diaper (which was soaked with pinkish pee by the time I got home; alas, we didn't think to ask for a second one to change into, which is where the puppy pad came in). All of these count as life-lessons, I suppose - a sort of practice-run on my old age. I probably didn't need to re-learn how little I like having tape ripped off my arm, though it may encourage me to shave my arms a bit before I go into VGH for phase two of this procedure.

But I'm home, I'm safe, and while there was probably wisdom in keeping a puppy pad on, I am no longer leaky, apparently. Sometime in March, I get to get my guts vibrated. We'll keep you posted on how that works, I guess.

Meantime, I leave you with this Frank Zappa song. Maybe you know the one...

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

A Shaw Brothers Night at the Vancity Theatre: Come Drink With Me plus vintage trailers!

You meet people who remember the Rickshaw as it was from time to time, back when it was known as the Shaw Theatre. One of my wife Erika's coworkers tells me he used to regularly go see Hong Kong-made Shaw Brothers movies there with his father throughout the 1980's, back when it was actually a movie theatre. The place was an institution for Vancouver's Chinese-Canadian (and/ or kung-fu-movie-loving) community for decades, run by the actual Shaw family, before it eventually closed and fell into disrepair. The resurrected Rickshaw's current proprietor, Mo Tarmohamed, has put up a couple posters for vintage kung fu movies in honour of the building's heritage, but - though I've chatted with him a bit about the building's past - I hadn't heard until recently that, when he took over the building, he also inherited film reels that had been left in an office, including some vintage Shaw Brothers trailers. (I believe Adrian Mack over at the Straight has actually seen the film cannisters in question, which Mo and co. are currently cataloguing; it was all news for me, as of a couple weeks ago).

That's all some cool local history. But besides being overwhelmed with other work, I'm maybe not the best-suited man to write a story about all this, because, despite a recent  failed attempt to make it through The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, the only actual Shaw Brothers movie I have seen to completion is an anomalous one: The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, a Hammer Studios co-production that features Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, battling, yep, kung-fu fighting Chinese vampires. It is very silly, very fun, and reasonably well-made, even if the film's Dracula pales next to Christopher Lee.

I mean, vampires are supposed to be pale, but... you know what I mean.

I do like a good kung fu movie, mind you, and have enjoyed two Ip Man movies, Bloodsport, Circle of Iron, and a couple of vintage Bruce Lees, but it's a genre I have less than exhaustive knowledge of. I am too fussy to watch poor-quality bootlegs, I can't abide most dubbing, and am even less fond of incompetent subtitling (which I have noted more than once on less-than-reputable DVDs of Chinese films). You just don't stumble across good quality DVDs or Blu's of classic kung fu actioners that often in your da-to-day scroungings in this town. (Or at least I don't). Hell, I don't even know if Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon counts as a wuxia film. To be totally honest, I'm not even sure what a wuxia film is, though I know that the 1966 feature Come Drink With Me is a wuxia film, because it is mentioned in the Vancity Theatre's program description.

Which brings us to the point. The Vancity Theatre will be playing Come Drink With Me and THREE of the Shaw Brothers trailers rediscovered at the Rickshaw on February 11th, at 9:45PM, to mark the occasion of Chinese New Year (the next day). Apparently the star of Come Drink With Me, who made a splash at age 20 in the film - her name is Cheng Pei Pei - was also in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and acts in Mina Shum's upcoming Meditation Park. She's still around, and through Shum, she too has a Vancouver connection. All of this is more than enough to put this film on my radar (my crazy-busy worklife right now might still mean I don't make it, but I'm gonna try).

There really isn't a lot else I can tell you, but Tom Charity has posted a piece on the Vancity Theatre website which includes trailers for some classic Cheng Pei Pei films, including Come Drink With Me, and more news about the Rickshaw discovery. It should fill in a few blanks. I wonder if Erika would enjoy Come Drink With Me? (Maybe she should tell her aforementioned coworker?).

Friday, February 02, 2018

Paolo Angeli's Vancouver return: a real (rare) treat for guitar lovers

Welcoming Paolo Angeli back to Vancouver!

I used to be a lot more involved in the avant garde music scene in Vancouver - noise nights, pancake noise breakfasts (or was that "noise pancake," to differentiate from the sound of the noise MADE by pancakes?). I wrote a Wire article - my only one so far - largely focusing on the Fake Jazz Wednesdays scene and Vancouver New Music, also speaking to people involved at 1067,  and tipping hat to bands like Shearing Pinx and the Mutators (unfortunately, some editor capitalized my And, making them into one band, but ah well, by the time I saw it the article was in print.) I think I got Dave Chokroun, Flatgrey, Harlow McFarlane and Josh Stevenson in there, maybe under a band name in some cases. I missed a couple of obvious names - Bill Batt and Jeremy van Wyck deserved to be in the article, for sure (Anju Singh was only just getting involved in the scene, though I did plug the Her Jazz Noise Collective). But I was focusing on the fear of impending venue closures, and talked to wendythirteen about the Cobalt instead, not knowing either Bill or Jeremy at that time and trying to keep my interviews manageable. The punk in me was glad to get wendythirteen into the Wire, but missing Bill and Jeremy seemed a mistake afterwards (I don't even recall if I mentioned Bill's band at the time, Stamina Mantis, who I'd only barely heard of). Besides all that, I paid a little more press than was maybe strictly warranted to my friends in Ejaculation Death Rattle (but what can I say, I dug what they did, members of the band were my "in" to a lot of the cooler stuff I was aware of, and, I mean, that's a great name for a band). I also blogged here a lot on any of the noise events I went to - go back ten years or so. And I frequently volunteered at Vancouver New Music events, selling merch for a long list of very cool people: Paul Dutton, Fred Frith, Maja Ratkje, the Her Jazz Noise Collective, Sir Richard Bishop, Diamanda Galas, and one of the guys from Negativland (Mark Hosler, I think his name was).

Those merch table nights were really fun. I often bought a ton of merch myself; I sold merch to some cool people (Alex Varty and I both bought Kick the Dog, a live Fred Frith album that you just don't see in stores); and sometimes I got to have very interesting conversations with the artists in question (including a long talk with Jaap Blonk that didn't ever end up making into the world, if anyone is hungry for a Jaap Blonk interview; it's one of about five major interviews I've done that for one reason or another never actually got published). Often I would be sitting at the merch table, "guarding" it, instead of going in to the venue proper (we're talking the Scotiabank Dance Theatre, here, so there was definitely a separation between the merch tables and the performance area).  Frequently that meant hanging out with people who were waiting to perform, or just winding down. I missed Koichi Makigami's set but I got to see him do a little bit of warming up in the anteroom. I had a long, enjoyable talk with Paul Dutton. I got Otomo Yoshihide to sign a CD, and confirmed with him in my broken Japanese that his family name was indeed "Otomo," not "Yoshihide" (the program got it wrong). Got to meet Maja Ratkje, too (much less terrifying when not performing). And of the five, I think, Vancouver New Music festivals (and a couple of stand-alone concerts) that I did that sort of thing for, by far the set that got the most buzz was Paolo Angeli, at the Guitars! Guitars! festival (or was it "Guitars! Guitars! Guitars!"...?).

I had no idea who Paolo Angeli was at that time. I was keener to see Rene Lussier that night, if memory serves, doing a combination of traditional French-Canadian reels and improvised electric guitar stuff, so I decided to just stay on the table and let a co-volunteer go into the space. But when people came out, after Angeli was done, they were totally excited about this masterful performance they'd seen, of moving, tuneful music played on a totally unique prepared guitar/ cello that gave him a much richer, bigger sound than you usually get from a solo performance. People cued up to buy his CDs in droves - it was Tessuti that he was touring at the time, involving his covers and homages to the music of both Fred Frith and Bjork (!) - and we sold all but one or two.

Mr. Angeli, after the performance, came out to square up, saw that he'd sold almost all his merch, was very surprised and happy, and - this was the only time, as I recall, that this happened - he gave me a tip: a copy of his CD. He tipped me! (That didn't happen very often).

It was terrific. I took it home, put it on, and commenced kicking myself for having missed his set. Understand, this was not really avant-garde music as the term is usually understood. It was fresh and new and virtuosic, sure, but there was none of the demanding/ indulgent/ noisy quality generally associated with the avant-garde. It was utterly beautiful to listen to, but also very earnest and down-to-earth, something that could easily bridge the gap(s) between people who liked classical music, jazz, experimental music and pop. I can't imagine anyone who likes guitar music, regardless of his or her background or tastes, spinning the album and not enjoying it (unless they really needed to be able to pigeonhole the genre, which I imagine would be frustrating). If you like music, you'll like it (and I'm tempted to say if you don't like it, you don't like music). And while I have sold off most of the CDs and LPs that I bought during that time, and almost never listen to anything remotely avant-garde anymore - the odd Eugene Chadbourne disc aside - I think I'm going to make up for my error and go see Mr. Angeli's Vancouver return performance on February 10th, again, put on by Vancouver New Music.

That's all I can really say about it, but an excerpt from the press release from Vancouver New Music follows. Note, fellow vulgarians, that in reading this through, I initially thought he adjusted tunings "on his fly," not "on the fly," which error lasted long enough in my head that I formed a mental picture of what it might look like.

Vancouver New Music presents
Paolo Angeli (Italy) – Solo Performance
Saturday, February 10, 2018; 8PM
Free pre-show chat 7:15PM 
Pyatt Hall at the VSO School of Music (843 Seymour Street)
Advance single tickets: $29 general / $21 senior / $12 student
At the door: $35 general / $25 senior / $15 student
(includes taxes and venue surcharges; ticket vendor surcharges extra)
Vancouver, BC – Virtuoso guitarist Paolo Angeli (Italy) returns to Vancouver on Saturday, February 10 for a one-night only, solo performance for prepared Sardinian guitar and voice at Pyatt Hall. This concert will be the final Canadian stop on his world tour for his new album, TALEA, which will begin at Carnegie Hall in New York City. 
Whatever you want to call it, nobody else plays music quite like this. Angeli, the Sardinian sorcerer, creates beautiful, multi-layered music from his unique prepared guitar: a hybrid orchestra of an instrument with strings that go in all directions, foot-pedal-controlled motorised propellers and hammers. Creating shimmering drones and bass-lines, Angeli bows, strikes, plucks and strums while producing rhythmic musical atmospheres by treading on a plastic bag and adjusting tunings on the fly. With this singular instrument he improvises and composes unclassifiable music, suspended between traditional music of Sardinia, free jazz, baroque, post-folk and pre-everything else. Every performance is lived through the practice of free improvisation, and represents for Paolo the chance to mould the sounds generated by his ‘orchestra’-guitar. The result is an ever-changing portrait where, in real time, can be found remnants of the ‘canto a chitarra’, Tasgia choirs, free jazz, punk noise, drum & bass, and avant pop. 
He has collaborated with Pat Metheny – who used Angeli's guitar in Orchestrion – Fred Frith, Hamid Drake, Iva Bittova, Butch Morris, Ned Rothemberg, Jon Rose, Antonello Salis, Evan Parker, Takumi Fukushima, Louis Sclavis, Paolo Fresu, and others. 
"Paolo Angeli is one of jazz’s best-kept secrets. The Sardinian guitarist (of sorts) has the ability to conjure incomparably beautiful multi-layered music, all from just one instrument. Playing a one- of-a-kind guitar/cello/motorised hybrid, Paolo bows, plucks and even provides his own percussion all at the same time without any need for loops." – Jez Nelson - BBC radio 3

More on the event here, and on Paolo Angeli here. Check him out on Youtube and tell me that it ain't lovely. Maybe we see you there?

Monday, January 29, 2018

My Kidney Stone, My Penis and My Urologist's Laser

Was is June? July? One summer night, back when I was still working at Douglas College as a tutor, you could find me at the hospital, doubled over with pain in the mid-back, sitting on the floor of the ER because the nurses wouldn't give me a chair (because I might be infectious, and because they apparently all had chips on their shoulder, some weird hate-on for sick, unpleasant men - because who can be pleasant in the state I was in?). The tiny hard hospital cot was too uncomfortable, and too high off the ground for a guy who needed to barf pretty frequently, so, chairless, I was slumped there on the tiles with the trash bin between my legs, projectile-puking and moaning, the doctors and nurses staying well away, and my understandably disgusted but still supportive wife standing, worrying about me, from the opposite corner of the room... it was several months ago, now... worst night healthwise of my life since I got over my tongue cancer surgery...

I figure  now that that day was when the kidney stone left my left kidney and began its passage down my ureter (the tube that leads from the kidney to the bladder). At 9mm long (and whatever the diameter - "it's a big one," my urologist tells me) it is too big to actually pass into the bladder, too big to be effectively shockwaved into fragmenting, too big to pass with the help of products like Flomax (which my urologist doesn't trust, anyhow, and which has, I gather, some scary dick-damaging side-effects). So as soon as they can book an appointment, they're going to admit me to the hospital, put me under, and stuff a camera and laser on tubes UP MY PENIS, THROUGH MY BLADDER, and INTO MY URETER to laserblast my rock into fragments that I might actually piss out, hopefully without cutting my urethra to ribbons, and without them accidentally lasering through my internal tubing. "It's a very small risk," my urologist said...

It's only taken six months of the BC medical system to get me to this point, from the diagnosis of a "possible kidney stone," even before my ER trip, to a diagnosis of "likely kidney stone" to an inconclusive ultrasound to a conclusive CT scan, each spaced out by a month or two, as my symptoms persisted unabated and untreated. Having a partially blocked ureter means your body wants to pee more to flush out the blockage, so you dehydrate a bit, and wake up to pee a lot, no matter how much water you do or don't drink. Because my blockage - a lump of calcium and minerals presumably about the size of a playing marble - is actually too big to pee out, there has been some buildup behind it in the ureter of substances that it traps; for all I know, it's gotten bigger. (Infection and inflammation are obvious other risks). The pain is actually fairly mild - a dull lower back ache on the left side. Some days I don't even notice it. But I am told if it goes untreated much longer, the pain will worsen, and my urologist seems intent on fast-tracking me. With my apnea and my being overweight and so forth it takes a little while for them to get all the paperwork in place for a surgical procedure, but, if he speaks the truth, it could be as soon as next week.

I never would have guessed that there would come a point where I was looking forward to having ANYTHING stuffed up my penis, but here I am. If it's the most likely treatment to have the desired effect - if there are, really, no other good options, then, like I said today to my urologist, "Doc, you go ahead and stuff that laser up my penis, and the sooner the better." 

If that's not the most unlikely combination of words I have ever strung together, I dunno what is.

Streets of Fire: Meh

Finally saw, thanks to David M., the Shout Factory Blu of Streets of Fire, without having to pay money for it (it's $34.99 at Sunrise, and last I checked, around the same at Videomatica; I wonder who can afford such things?). I had been itching to see it in the best looking version available, so I could a) share it with my wife and b) re-evaluate it, because my memory of it, formed in the days of VHS, is that it was fun but trivial, hardly anything to write home about (which I've seen a few film writers do in recent years, making me wonder if seeing it through the misty filter of 80's nostalgia would change my estimate of it). And while I am not sure if I am happy or sad to say so, so it seems to me now, exactly as it seemed to me then: fun... but trivial. 

It's not awful, mind you. I think part of what will make the film work or fail for you is how much you care about images versus words, when eventuating a film. It's definitely a BEAUTIFUL looking film - the production design is exceptional, more on which below. But like another film I regard as lesser of Hill's, The Driver, it has a screenplay that feels like it was written by a teenager, with each line of dialogue packed with import and drama and a total fearlessness when it comes to cliches, like Hill isn't even aware they exist (or is, perhaps, very very fond of them; maybe he has a cliche fetish?). Once you have some practice with the film, you can practically see the next line coming, in all-caps and boldface, embracing its own inevitability; surely several takes were ruined by actors involuntarily wincing at the cheese they were being asked to deliver with total sincerity. And like his re-edited version of The Warriors, it feels both in framing and in line delivery very much at times like a comic book, with basically fewer than ten words being uttered at any moment, such as might appear in the word balloons over a character's mouth in any given image. It's almost as if the utter simplicity of his approach to writing is, in fact, a point of pride - and the corniness (not quite campiness) DOES make it kind of fun. But the last time I saw it was as a teenager, and having grown up in the interim does nothing to make the dialogue any easier to swallow...

Of course, the production design - imagining a 1980's version of the 1950's that acts as if the '60's and '70's never happened -  is superb, with streets that are always wet, full of vintage cars and bikes that shine with a fetishistic glow. The set design alone must have cost a fair bit. The film looks utterly fantastic on Blu, so if the whole comic-book-dialogue thing doesn't sound bothersome to you - you might actually really ENJOY the movie. Plus there are fun performances throughout - especially, for me, that of a reptilian Willem Dafoe and his henchman Lee Ving (a punk whose movie apparances, like those of Chris D. and John Doe, seem weirdly few and far between, given how much charisma he has when he's onscreen). Amy Madigan looks a bit too much like Amy Madigan, and seems a bit better than the material, but is always fun to watch. Rick Moranis has a thankless role as the money-conscious manager/ boyfriend of a kidnapped pop star but manages the trick of being a twerp and being likable at the same time. Hero Michael Pare, hired to rescue said star from the bike gang holding her, seems to be embracing his inner Stallone, and definitely does NOT seem above the material, which I guess is a good thing. About the only person who comes across a bit wooden is Diane Lane, whose greatest accomplishment in the film was to make me think wistfully of how much I enjoyed Joan Jett in Paul Schrader's Light of Day. The film would be more fun, I think, if her character were at all believable or interesting. There is some great music on the soundtrack - including a rockin' appearance by the Blasters, some Ry Cooder originals (and a Link Wray cover by Cooder's band), and for those who have a guilty fondness for such things, a couple Jim Steinman tunes (don't judge  me, but I count that as a positive). And there is a club dancer, played by French dancer Marine Jahan, who is very compelling and watchable, doing a semi-strip to Leiber and Stoller's "One Bad Stud" as performed by the Blasters (featuring three people who were just in town with the Flesh Eaters, since Steve Berlin is onstage with Dave Alvin and Bill Bateman). I gather from M. that she was the dance double for Jennifer Beals in Flashdance. I remember her being fodder for my horny teen self when watching it 30-odd years ago; now I mostly just appreciate how GOOD she is, and her being sexy as she does it is simply a side-observation... 

But fuckin' hell is the movie corny, and almost utterly absent of anything provocative or interesting in terms of content. It describes itself as a rock and roll "fable" but it's more of a rock and roll comic book - or maybe even simpler than that. I am aware that the film has its fans right now, that it has been reclaimed and embraced by a certain kind of cinephile out there, including people who have declared in their favourite film. It's truly puzzling to me. Southern Comfort, sure, that I will get behind. Or The Long Riders, or Hard Times, or the original version of The Warriors, which, while also cartoonish, has some real originality and inspiration to it. Maybe there's something I'm simply failing to appreciate, maybe there's some way in which the film is about cliche, and not just jam-packed with it?

I would like to add another Hill movie I can enjoy to my list, would still like to think of myself as a fan of his cinema - but Streets of Fire sure isn't it.

Anyhow, thanks, David M., for having saved me the $35!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

George Carlin Redux: "George Carlin Cancelled"

Woke up to a blog-comment/ lecture on a piece of writing I did from five years ago.

It's kinda interesting to me to see anyone reading stuff I did from that long ago, let alone taking me to task for it. I mean, I didn't even remember what I wrote (and the idea that anyone would take it seriously enough to respond to it is kinda flattering, really, even if they're hatin' on me). The person in question might have a few points, I dunno. It's early in the morning. Wakin' up to a spankin' over a five year old potential tastecrime is a bit odd. 

As you will see, tho', (in the linked piece, above, and the comments section below it) it was about the only time I saw George Carlin. Let me just say here, without reiterating the above-linked piece, that I have great love for George Carlin, meant him no disrespect in the slightest in that piece of writing, am sad that he is gone, and would love to hear what he would make, say, of President Donald Trump, or Harvey Weinstein, or #metoo, or  Louis CK, or so forth. There have been a lot of deaths of some note in the last decade, but in terms of PEOPLE WHO I ACTUALLY SPENT TIME WITH - whose words I have spent the most time on, whose ideas and observations have most shaped me - the two I have felt the most are probably George Carlin and Lemmy.

I got to actually TALK to Lemmy about death, and know he had a pretty good sense of humour about it - there's a line from a very early song he wrote and sang, with Sam Gopal, called "Escalator," to the effect of, "if you like me when I'm living/ you're gonna love me when I'm dead." He actually chuckled when I quoted that back at him during an interview and talked about how people get better after they die. Death and mortality and serious illness are terrifying things to me since my brush with cancer last year, and I hope I too can keep a sense of humour and perspective as they get closer (I'm almost 50!). Lemmy had a pretty great way of dealing with the inevitable, it seems, living exactly the life he wanted to live right to the end (even if he hadda switch out Coke for Diet Coke because of his diabetes).

Carlin got a little morbid in his last couple shows, for my taste, actually - there's some really kinda nasty bits, amongst the humour and wisdom.  But as far as dark death-related humour goes, nothing I have seen is funny in the same way as this ad that appeared in the Georgia Straight shortly after George Carlin died. He had a show scheduled at River Rock Casino when he passed; so this is what the casino ran, to let people know the show was off.

If there IS footage of that final Carlin show mentioned, I think they should make this the cover of the DVD, actually. George Carlin: Cancelled. I would buy it.  And seriously, blog commenter: there is no spite or disrespect or so forth intended here. If Mr. Carlin were around, I would show him this ad, and he would laugh, of this I have no doubt.

Have a good morning...

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Flesh Eaters, Chinese food, and the forgotten art of self-disembowelment

The Flesh Eaters by bev davies, January 25, 2018 at the Rickshaw; not to be reused without permission. All photos below also by bev davies, unless noted otherwise (the crappy cell phone photo at the end is by me). 

Two great nights at the Vancity Theatre and the Rickshaw. Thanks to Tom Charity for takin' a dive for culture, first off (and not the first time he's done it with my involvement, either) and programming Border Radio. We all kinda knew (though we had, of course, hoped otherwise) that Border Radio wouldn't be a huge draw - though I can't REALLY understand why a couple hundred people who would come out to see the Flesh Eaters wouldn't want to hang out, chat, and hear stories the night before from Chris D., and watch a  movie with 3/5ths of the band in it (including John Doe and Dave Alvin), with a soundtrack by Dave Alvin, and better yet, with the rhythm section of DJ Bonebrake and Bill Bateman in the fuckin' audience with you. I mean, the film IS out there on DVD, but you're not going to get to ask Chris D. questions about it, y'know? He really showed a friendlier, chattier side of himself at Border Radio, too. He comes across as a bit stern onstage and up-close, with those Patrick Magee eyebrows and all.

Chris D and I at the Rickshaw, by Erika Lax

But whatever - it was an intimate and positive night at the Vancity, in part BECAUSE there were only 20 people there, and Kier-la Janisse conducted a great Q&A: more about her implied below in the section on ritual self-disembowelment, an art to which she is no stranger. Which reminds me, Chris D. said some very nice things about the importance of event programmers like her to generating/ sustaining/ fostering and supporting culture, often at a financial loss to themselves, frequently without getting acknowledgement. I don't have an exact quote, but amen to him for the sentiment: Chris is the rare example of someone who has straddled BOTH sides of the fence, as a writer/ interviewer/ programmer AND a singer/ actor, filmmaker - so he knows what he's talking about...

Chris D. of the Flesh Eaters by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

And besides Kier-la and Tom (and the people who DID come out to Border Radio), HUGE thanks to Mo for putting on the Flesh Eaters show. It was not a show I actually had anything to do with inspiring, note - or at least not that I know of (Mo mighta seen me enthusing about them somewhere or other in 2015). It's just that they were my favourite punk band of all time, throughout my 20's and teens, when my range of tastes was still contained enough for me to have favourites. I know Mo was nervous, with sluggish advance ticket sales, that he was going to regret booking such an all-star band, but Vancouver more or less acquitted itself decently, with a venue 2/3rds full and enthusiastic for the music; he seemed happy enough with how it turned out, though I gather it didn't pay for itself, either, ultimately. The coolest cultural events in this city are almost always, to borrow a phrase from the Japanese, "jibara o kirimasu" - an idiom adapted from the practice of hara kiri, which involved cutting open your belly to show your sincerity, represented by your entrails; it has come to mean, in Japan, to dip into your own pocket, to foot the bill - "using one's own money to pay for something that one isn't obligated to pay for," according to the Complete Japanese Expression Guide. This blog itself is kinda that way. I mean, you see all the ads I'm running? 

What, there are no ads? What's wrong with me? (Note: if you are reading this at some distant point and there are, in fact, ads, well, sorry. I stuck it out for over ten ad-free years, folks. It's not like I haven't considered it...). 

And speaking of Mo, chatting with Bev about how cool he is the other day, it occurred to me - I don't even KNOW who runs the Commodore, the Venue, the Imperial, or so forth... it's all faceless agencies like Timbre or Livenation or whatever; but the actual people behind the scenes - you might know one person involved in promoting shows, but whose venue actually IS it? What do they actually LISTEN to? Do they LIKE what they put on? Mo, by contrast, is on the frontlines, taking pride in what he does, interacting with people, checking in with them, and digging his own booking choices, as much as a presence in his own venue as "vintage wendythirteen" was at the Cobalt-back-when. I like a business like that! It's kinda Mom and Pop, when you think of it - kinda like how some of my favourite restaurants over the years, the person cooking your food and the person serving you are the OWNERS, and you get to know both of them by name. Actually, I'm thinking of Chinese restaurants. The Rickshaw is the Vancouver music scene's Chinese Mom and Pop restaurant. But holy fuck is the food good!

Okay, that was a bit weird, but you see what I mean. 

And, I mean, how much money - this was Bev's observation, actually - has Mo raised for charity and such? The last Bowie Ball alone took in, what, $10,000 for cancer research? She was saying the city should recognize him in some way, BOTH as a belly-cuttin' purveyor of culture and a socially-conscious contributor to those in need. I totally agree. Cheers, Mo.

The Flesh Eaters by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

And by the way, it was a great show. I think the band actually did a better set last night than in Seattle a couple years ago; Seattle the energy was intense, but kinda subdued, right up til the end, with a rip-roarin' encore of "Cinderella," "Pony Dress" and "She's Like Heroin to Me" that really raised the stakes when there was nowhere left to go. By contrast, last night, there were more dynamics to the energy - less of a linear journey to a climax than Seattle. You really noticed the rhythm section, too - Bill Bateman and DJ Bonebrake are an amazingly solid team (as Doug Smith will tell you, leaning in to your ear and shouting - or, wait, that was MY ear: Bateman is a singularly amazing drummer, a real powerhouse - though there was one song where DJ got off the vibes and got on snare and we had two drummers, which was a real treat). 

Bill Bateman of the Flesh Eaters by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

DJ Bonebrake of the Flesh Eaters by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

As with Seattle, John Doe seemed to have the most fun onstage - getting singled out for cheers by X fans and very sweetly actually coming out to say hi to a few of them afterwards (He remembers Bev well and she introduced me; I, in turn, introduced her to Chris, who she's never met, though apparently she took pictures for Slash back in the day). I wish X would come back to Vancouver - I've never gotten to see them! But I've seen John twice now, and someone mentioned that Exene would be in town this spring (I have done nothing to confirm this). John seems like a real great guy.

John Doe of the Flesh Eaters by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

Also, as with Seattle, Dave Alvin seemed the hardest person to fully contain onstage, the most tightly-packed package up there, a hugely energetic musician, having to channel his energy through a fairly narrow corridor. I mean, face it, he's really a frontman, not a sideman, and you kinda sense a tension in him, like he's packing in sooooo much of his personality and passion to be a support person rather than the bandleader that it kinda wants to explode out the edges... which he got to do a LITTLE, during solos, but not nearly enough to fully use him up. Hopin' he brings the Guilty Ones (and Phil!) back sometime soon (I saw their last show here and I gotta say that it was maybe my happiest concert-going experience of 2016, dancing to "Marie Marie" with my wife, also diggin' it, beside me).  My favourite Dave moments last night included a particularly fun passage of "Satan's Stomp" where he deliberately de-synchronized from John, so both were playing the same hook but at different times; plus there was  a nice moment where he squatted to take a pull off a beer at the side as the band did their thing and could be seen grinning hugely at checking out his bandmates. Dave Alvin has a real infectious smile; looking at him, it was impossible not to grin back, then glance away awkwardly when he noticed I was doin' it. What can I say, he seemed so serious sometimes up there that it was a relief to see him lookin' that happy...

Dave Alvin of the Flesh Eaters by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

Sax player Steve Berlin took my joking with him with grace and humour when he came out at the end (quoth me: "I saw Los Lobos when you opened for Neil Young here and I was, like, 'it's Steve Berlin from the Flesh Eaters!'"). I always kinda am reminded of another sax-playing Steve when I hear him with the Flesh Eaters: Steve Mackay on the Stooges' Fun House, who does similar things with his horn, packing in noise and texture, treating his sax much like one might an electric guitar. There's nothin' jazzy about what he does, and none of that Clarence Clemons' rock sax thing happening. He and Dave Alvin complimented each other beautifully, at opposite sides of the stage. Good beard, too. 

Steve Berlin of the Flesh Eaters by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

Finally, frontman Chris D. was super-generous, telling stories between songs about sharing stage with the recently departed Mark E. Smith (in the run up to the somewhat Fallish "So Long") and making sure the audience knew "The Green Manalishi with the Three-Pronged Crown" - the band's first encore - was NOT a Judas Priest song (it's by Peter Green of the original Fleetwood Mac, who also, didja know, wrote that Rezillos song about someone getting their head kicked in tonight!). Other covers were the same as Seattle: the Sonics' "Cinderella" and a blistering show closer with John and Chris teaming up for vocals on "She's Like Heroin to Me," by the Gun Club. Incidentally, have I showed you this photo that I found online of Kid Congo and Jeffrey Lee Pierce dressed up as Debbie Harry and Rita Moreno? This one goes out to Erik Iversen (it is also not by Bev):

In fact, Chris' voice got pretty ragged at times - more when he was speaking than singing, weirdly enough; he seems to be able to scream when he can hardly talk, which I don't understand at all. He even seemed to have a bit of a sore throat at the Border Radio Q&A, but it was obviously not something he was going to let get in the way. He seemed irrepressible both nights, coming out after the concert to chat with fans (the artist formerly known as ARGH! of DOA colouring book fame and he had a nice chat about Dan Stewart of Green on Red, apparently living in Mexico now  - "living Border Radio," as ARGH! put it; I gotta get me a copy of Gravity Talks, speaking of which). Chris actually should probably take a page from David Thomas' and PROTECT and CONSERVE his voice before a show, and only do email interviews or something, but then, I'm the motherfucker who did a three hour phone chat with him a couple weeks ago (see below) and then had him do a Q&A after Border Radio the night before, so, um, mea culpa folks.   

John Doe and Chris D. by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

It didn't really matter. Chris still delivered, passionately and powerfully, with "Miss Muerte" in particular standing out as a fantastic tune on an album I don't know half as well as I should. Kickass versions of "The Wedding Dice" and "My Life to Live" from Forever Came Today, all of Minute to Pray, and "Pony Dress" filled out the set - and, oh yeah, "House Amid the Thickets." If the overall energy was better in Vancouver in 2018 than Seattle in 2015, I do have to admit that the Seattle "Pony Dress" was better, even got a moshpit going. (I had retreated to further back last night by then so I didn't see if anyone got moshin'). But still, what a treat. Setlist more or less the same as the Echoplex one posted previously, though "See You in the Boneyard" got moved til later...

Setlist by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

That's about it. (I missed Petunia and the Vipers and am bummed to hear that Petunia's guitar got stolen the other day; his new album should be in select stores now or soon, and he tells me that after the current run is done he's going to re-master it, with a few changes, so it's going to a very limited edition of 300 LPs. Get yours now!). Thanks again to the bands, and Mo, and Bev, and Tom and Kier-la and everyone who came to the show and did not embarrass me with how sucky and fickle the Vancouver music scene can be (it's still better than the cinema scene). Some of my guts got spilled too, with all the transcribing and writing I did (see also my Allison Anders and Petunia interviews on the Straight website, which were donated pro-bono, along with all the writing below).  The people whoopin' and dancing last night made it all worth it. 

It would be a real drag to cut open your belly and have no one notice. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Things Worth Doing (one that is already done)

Our screening of Border Radio was a total success last night - if you don't mind that maybe ten people paid to get in! (I fault no one on the guestlist - I was on it too). But the Q&A was very enlightening, the people in the audience were way cool (including members of the band, local fixture Gerald Rattlehead, Mo Tarmohamed and his wife, Tom Charity and Fiona Morrow, and Cinema Sewer's great Robin Bougie). And the movie was very enjoyable - for me greatly enriched by my having learned more about Allison Anders (like her apprenticeship, basically, with Wim Wenders; his mark is on the film for sure). How fun to hear Kier-la and Chris talking about the film - he gave her some very deserved acknowledgement as a person making things happen behind the scenes - and how great it was that she was doing a film event in Vancouver again... got a book signed (she has some with her if you're shoppin' for books)... I got Chris to sign stuff too... Real great night...

I don't really have time to write about other stuff, including a few notable obits I was wanting to post (RIP Jack Ketchum, Ursula LeGuin, and Mark E. Smith). Truth is, I have to spend today doing prep and marking for school. But let me just say - if you missed last night's Border Radio screening, and feel bad, now that you know it was a real fun evening - DO NOT MISS TONIGHT'S FLESH EATERS CONCERT AT THE RICKSHAW! It may be your only chance to see them live, and this is a great band - right up there in the Los Angeles punk pantheon with X, the Gun Club, the Germs, Los Plugz, the Blasters, the Circle Jerks. I will probably be late myself - I couldn't take tonight off work - but I will be there! (Maybe with a very generous car-drivin' wife who doesn't really like punk rock but loves her husband). 

See you there...

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

One night only! (?) The Return of Kier-la Janisse!

I can't speak to the excitements of the rest of the city, but obviously *I* am really keen about the Flesh Eaters show on Thursday, and about the Border Radio screening on Wednesday. But one thing I haven't written much about, that I am (almost) equally excited about, is for (writer/ programmer/ publisher) Kier-la Janisse to be hosting the Q&A with Chris D on Wednesday. It wasn't JUST the Flesh Eaters show that inspired the Border Radio event, understand: it was that Kier-la (pronounced K-La) had announced, as a friend and, I presume, a fellow fan of Chris D's, that she was going to fly out (I think from Montreal) to attend the concert. Chris D. coming to town was already an argument to show one of the films he's involved in, but Chris D. and Kier-la? ABSOLUTELY we needed a film event. (Yes, there is conflict of interest afoot here, gang, but my rules don't forbid me from writing about things I'm involved in on some level. It ain't about the money, anyhow, it's about CREATING AND SUPPORTING CULTURE THAT MATTERS, right? If it were about the money, none of us would be doing this; this blog wouldn't even exist).

There's tons I don't know about Kier-la, but the stuff she HAS done is amazing to me. She was the founder and curator of the horror film festival Cinemuerte, for one. Not only did I see some great films there - Vice Squad, Class of 1984, Phantom of the Paradise (but I stupidly missed the July 4th Toilet event afterwards) - maybe even a 1990's midnight movie screening of Peter Jackson's Bad Taste? Was that you, Kier-la? - but my first piece of film writing published in Vancouver, on Zev Asher's documentary Casuistry, ran in the last issue of Terminal City, apropos of that film screening at Cinemuerte. No Kier-la means no Al-as-we-know-him (thanks also to Fiona Morrow, here, btw). Later on, Kier-la curated a rock music festival called Big Smash in Vancouver that had some fantastic content - the Roky Erickson documentary, say, or Peter Watkins' Privilege, which she tracked down a print of and had it flown out, at some expense, when the film still wasn't seeable on DVD. She also brought Wreckless Eric up here for that - he picked Godard's Sympathy for the Devil to screen, which he introduced - and Kier-la organized a very memorable concert at the Railway for him, which kinda blew me away (even if he, himself, was a bit off-puttingly cranky at times - I tried to gush on him about his album, Big Smash, and he would have none of it). At that time - if my timeline isn't wonky - she was programming at the Alamo Drafthouse in Texas, and made some cool little movies there, editing together footage to make a doc on Krautrock that she played between features at Big Smash (I was impressed, lots in it I didn't know, but as I recall she was very nonchalant about it). Believe she did I Was a Teenage Quincy Punk, too, and made time to go get a video hello from Roky to play before the film. What a generous, generous person; I, for one, have missed her programming in Vancouver a lot. 

Oh, she was pretty important to the early years of Black Dog, as well, but I never really was a Black Dog regular. Great store tho'.

It's been awhile since I've seen anything she's curated. I loved her programming when she was in town, but one too many disappointing turnouts meant she eventually moved on. After leaving Texas, she ran a cinema in Montreal called Blue Sunshine, along with a colleague from my Nerve Magazine days, Dave Bertrand. There's a cool little video interview with her online about that. I know she's still involved in programming back east, but I'm not sure if Blue Sunshine is still extant, sadly. I have not, to my embarrassment, read her memoir/ film book House of Psychotic Women yet -  published on FAB Press, who are one of the coolest imprints out there, also doing Robin Bougie and Stephen Thrower titles - but I have at least one Spectacular Optical book on my shelf, Satanic Panic, featuring an essay about organized child abuse and the discrediting of Satanic ritual abuse by Vancouver's own Adrian Mack. The book also features an article on the films and music inspired by the story of teenaged "rock'n'roll" Satanist/ drug dealer/ murderer/ metalhead Ricky Kasso, whom I wrote about as part of my Electric Wizard review a year or so ago (if I may, it's one of my favourite pieces of music writing I've done). 

By the by, there's a super cheap PDF version of Satanic Panic on the Spectacular Optical website. Fans of Mack's at the very least should check it out...! There's lots else on the site, including a book on the cinema of erotic French vampire filmmaker Jean Rollin, a book on Christmas-themed horror movies... Lots of cool stuff...

Anyhow, folks, no time for much else this morning - I gotta go grab some pics to illustrate this - but if you're lucky, Kier-la will have a few books with her on Wednesday for your purchasing pleasure. Welcoming her back to Vancouver! Even if you don't care about the Flesh Eaters or Allison Anders or Border Radio, if you like cult and horror movies, come out Wednesday at 9pm to the Vancity Theatre to see a Q&A between Chris D. and Kier-la...! Not likely to happen in Vancouver ever again, gang. Now where the hell is my Cinemuerte t-shirt...?