Saturday, January 29, 2005

Really hard Free Cell

Game 19410. Damn, man, that's a hard game of Free Cell.

Hint follows:

Be careful which Jack you move, and make sure the stage is set before you start on the last column on the right. Patience is the key to this one.

The Winks at the Marine Club

Cellopeople, tell me: is there a precedent for wearing fishnet stockings while playing your instrument? Because if not, Tyr deserves some serious credit for this. It's a good idea. I mean, I don't want to seem lecherous or such, but it's interesting to look at. Todd's interesting to look at too, with his gangly rapturous dances, but I don't want to seem bisexual, either. Look, really, my attraction to the Winks is not primarily sexual. There is something very attractive, very charismatic, about both of the lead players, tho', I will say that. Between Todd flopping vertically about over his mandolin and Tyr demurely bowing her instrument, looking from side to side (since it's about all you can do for movin' around when there's a cello between your legs, but she makes it count) -- their motions each suit their musical roles and oddly complement each other. They're as interesting to look at as any band I've seen, or, well, at least since that Iggy Pop concert I went to back in the '80s, and Iggy Pop is damned interesting to look at, you gotta say that much about him.

Why do I like the Winks so much, tho'? I mean, aside from the obvious answers, like the fact that they ended tonight's set with a cover of Sonic Youth's "Expressway to Yr. Skull," say, including a lengthy noise jam for cello and mandolin and sax. That's a pretty funky thing to do. It was so cool sounding, in fact, I had to close my eyes at times to listen to them, thus proving that it isn't just looking at the Winks I find so interesting. They have some pretty quirky song structures, too, tho' it's still crowd pleasers like "Snakes" that I enjoy the most. Some fan even got up and danced to that one. Male, alone. Good for him; I remained seated.

What observations can I offer about the night, though? The Marine Club seems to attract a much younger audience than Blim did. I felt old and conspicuously balding, glad to have some paper to scribble on and hide behind. With a younger audience, the Winks were more playful and just a tad looser than at Blim -- they seemed like people who knew they were among friends. Much joking was done around a mysterious popping sound that emerged from the speakers periodically. They almost ended up performing with the tattooed sound guy on stage with them as he tried to sort it out... I think I'm going to just go to every damn gig they announce on their mailing list and observe how different environments affect them. I'm going to become some sort of Winks groupie, I swear.

I wish they'd played "Theme." Something about how Tyr sings "Jeez Louise" is very compelling.

Thursday, January 27, 2005


I wasn't going to see this, but suddenly I need to -- mostly due to Jonathan Rosenbaum's review in the Chicago Reader, tho' it'll also be interesting to see how the "good guys under siege" structure of the film resonates against the current political situation in the United States. I only dimly recall Carpenter's original, but I liked it at the time. I'll have to see it alone, unfortunately -- it'll only be fun to watch if I'm free to think about it structurally as it plays out; other viewers sitting beside me would interfere. Or... well, maybe not Dan. Hm. Have to call him and suggest it.

Addendum, a week later: finally saw this with my parents. Bleh. Once again, Mr. Rosenbaum has gone out of way (think Small Soldiers, here) to sing the praises and political nuances of a rather trite formula action film. Sure, the film has an antiauthoritarian streak, but it's hardly novel, and it won't offer you much comfort while you watch Ethan Hawke gnaw the set and the clunky cliches of the screenplay batter you about the ears. It ain't even worth writing about (Ebert here -- a nice bit of writing). Note for Dan: White Noise was a better choice.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Black Spot on your Consciousness

Just read a lucid little summation of why the US should leave Iraq ASAP. by historian Howard Zinn.

Elections are approaching in Iraq, if you aren't paying attention, with a concomitant increase in violence. Reading on Riverbend's blog that there hasn't been water in the pipes for six days in Baghdad -- that conditions for Iraqis are getting worse than ever before.

Lately Iraq is like a small black spot in my consciousness. The more one focuses on it, I've discovered, the bigger and blacker the spot gets. ...My Brazilian student got sooooo upset during the Abu Ghraib material I brought into my ESL class today that I actually had to go try to say good things about the USA to placate him. I generally take antiAmericanism as a given from Koreans -- the military bases in Korea have a host of horror stories attached to them -- and I've seen Japanese go both ways -- some can be quite pro-American, usually in a very naive, Japanese-conformist kinda way -- but I've never encountered anyone from South America who felt this strongly about the US. It was almost enough to make me want to rethink the material -- I want to raise my students' consciousness, not encourage them in hatred.

By the way, in looking for one of the links above, I stumbled across a couple of heartbreaking photographs on someone's site -- of a young Iraqi girl crying after her parents had been murdered by US soldiers. These pics are quite upsetting, so consider your mood before clicking the link. I wonder if this is the episode that Nicholson Baker wrote about in Checkpoint?

Enough of the black spot, for now.

Post-script: Guantanamo "torture" tactics, targeting sexuality and Islamic values re: sex, detailed here. Excerpt below, in case the link eventually goes dead:

His female interrogator decided that she needed to turn up the heat," Saar
writes, saying she repeatedly asked the detainee who had sent him to Arizona,
telling him he could "cooperate" or "have no hope whatsoever of ever leaving
this place or talking to a lawyer.'"
The man closed his eyes and began to
pray, Saar writes.
The female interrogator wanted to "break him," Saar adds,
describing how she removed her uniform top to expose a tight-fitting T-shirt and
began taunting the detainee, touching her breasts, rubbing them against the
prisoner's back and commenting on his apparent erection.
The detainee looked
up and spat in her face, the manuscript recounts.
The interrogator left the
room to ask a Muslim linguist how she could break the prisoner's reliance on
God. The linguist told her to tell the detainee that she was menstruating, touch
him, then make sure to turn off the water in his cell so he couldn't wash.
Strict interpretation of Islamic law forbids physical contact with women
other than a man's wife or family, and with any menstruating women, who are
considered unclean.
"The concept was to make the detainee feel that after
talking to her he was unclean and was unable to go before his God in prayer and
gain strength," says the draft, stamped "Secret."

The interrogator
used ink from a red pen to fool the detainee, Saar writes.
"She then started
to place her hands in her pants as she walked behind the detainee," he says. "As
she circled around him he could see that she was taking her hand out of her
pants. When it became visible the detainee saw what appeared to be red blood on
her hand. She said, 'Who sent you to Arizona?' He then glared at her with a
piercing look of hatred.

Please don't taunt the giant

Bizarre news out of Iran: a show of swaggering bravado practically daring the US to attack them. That's a great idea, guys -- why not publicly announce you have WMD, while you're at it? Particulary since it's likely you don't.

Y'all look at maps 'n' shit, right? Iran is right inbefuckingtween Afghanistan and Iraq. An Iranian coworker of mine is really nervous, and I don't blame her...

Did my Abu Ghraib mini-lesson with my ESL class today. Once again, out of a dozen university-educated students (in this group, from Korea, Taiwan, Japan, China, and Brazil) not one knew what Abu Ghraib was. Only two had seen the torture photos before. I probably would have stopped doing this particular lesson months ago, except I'm so stunned at how little people pay attention to this sort of thing. People need to know.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Hen Na Yoru

A somewhat interesting series of coincidences:

Walking from Broadway down to Cornwall, on the way home from the bookstore, today, I overheard some young man on a cellphone, sitting in a doorway, say to a friend on the other end, "but I can't speak Japanese!" I was amused by this snippet -- what would the context of it be, I wondered -- and considered walking up to him and saying something like "Nihongo ga kantan da yo! Daijobu! Gambatte, ne!" (Japanese is easy, I tell you! No problem! Don't give up!). I probably would have done it, except his not having any idea what I was saying (since he can't speak Japanese) would make the joke obscure to the point of pointlessness -- an in-joke for one.

A few blocks down, I'd forgotten all about him. As I was passing the King's Head Inn, I overheard two Japanese women having a conversation, in Japanese. They said the phrase kono hen a few times -- "in this area." I couldn't make it all out but they were looking and pointing around. Looking for something? Lost? I turned and said, "Sumimasen." (Excuse me). They gasped to be addressed in Japanese by some big white guy; I tried to assume an aspect of friendly helpfulness "Doko ni ikitai? Daijobu desu ka?" (roughly, "Where do you want to go? Is everything okay?"). They said everything was okay (in a sort of abunai hen-na-gaijin kind of way, shrinking back a little -- hen has two meanings, "place" and "strange") and so I wandered on.

A few minutes later, standing, waiting for my bus in front of a closed Starbucks, the two ladies pass me again, and I realize that the young man sitting beside me on the bench is code-switching between English and Japanese on his cell phone. Both he and his girlfriend, sitting beside him, seem to be Japanese. I notice his Japanese first, surprised because I thought he'd been speaking English. He has an odd accent, and I formulate in my mind as I eavesdrop on him, picking out a phrase here and there, how to ask him about this. "Sumimasen. Anata no hatsuon ga omoshiroi. Nihon wa, dono bubun kara kimashita?" -- my rather clunky rendition of "your pronunciation is interesting. What part of Japan are you from?"). Suddenly, though, he switches to English -- and his English sounds more native-like than his Japanese! Suddenly I'm puzzled as hell: what's his first language? Is his Japanese accented because he's an Asian native English speaker who has mastered Japanese almost completely, without quite getting the sound system down? (He's a helluva lot more fluent than I am, anyhow). Or is he maybe just speaking some dialect of Japanese, and a very successful student of English? I cannot tell. I try to figure out how to ask him, just as a mental exercise. How the hell do you say "first language" in Japanese, anyhow? Saishogo? (I sometimes just slap shit together like that. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I see no mention of it in my dictionary... Saisho kotoba? Hajime -- na? --kotoba? Fuck, I dunno.) As I struggle with it, the bus comes. By the time we get off -- at the same stop -- I've thought about it too much and eavesdropped on him for too long to feel comfortable asking him these questions.

...and this is what I have to show for three years of life in Japan, aside from a few culty videos, some CDs, and a little Disk Union placard taped to my wall, to remind me of the good old days shopping for music in Shinjuku. Sometimes I can give tourists directions.

There sure are a lot o' Japanese in Vancouver lately. Odd to have three such encounters within the same half an hour. William Gibson would probably be amused.


Post script: hm. Mutsuko Sakura, the female star in a bunch of Ozu films, including Tokyo Monogatari (Tokyo Story) died today. It doesn't really count as another coincidence but I noticed it immediately after finishing this blog entry, so I thought I'd tack it on. (In that spirit, on the way to work the next morning I noticed someone had stuck a sticker onto a utility box that read For those who know: Tokyo! Maybe someone is trying to tell me something.)

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Ingmar Bergman, plus a Big Baby

Finally made it to one of the Bergman screenings at the Cinematheque last night. The Seventh Seal and, more excitingly (because I've never seen it before) The Rite. If anyone is reading this while the festival is ongoing, I highly recommend The Rite, in which art and the state interrogate each other with considerable cruelty and suspicion and the human condition is held up for us to contemplate. Lots of close-up shots and a fair bit of acting out on the part of the actors reminded me, oddly enough, of Cassavetes' Faces, but of course it's a lot colder and more idea-driven than a Cassavetes film; plus it's from 1969, so I assume Bergman hadn't seen Faces at that point. It plays again on Monday the 24th, in a double bill with Sawdust and Tinsel.

In other news: a woman in Brazil has given birth to a 17 pound boy. I was relieved to read it happened by C-section!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Americans moving to Canada

The Independent just ran a fairly interesting article about Americans moving to Canada, in the wake of Bush's re-election. Somehow lately Bush, the war in Iraq, all of that seems pretty unreal to me this week. Read on Baghdad Burning about the continuing problems with phones and electricity, and it's horrible, and I sympathize, but lately I just have to accept that there's not much I can do about it. I've marched, I've written angry condemnations of the war, and all that, but it seems lately like things are just going to keep rolling on regardless, so...

I guess I could browse American personals sites for people looking to marry their way in. The United States could become like the Phillipines or Russia -- American women placing personals ads in international papers, looking for a way out. I slept with an American, once...

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

On the Celebrities of Friendster

Dunno if these links will work but it's been fun seeing who is on Friendster. (I mean, Noam Chomsky? Did his kids talk him into this?). Glenn Danzig, Bjork, Thurston Moore, even Annie Sprinkle and Quentin Tarantino, tho' they're "private." Uh... just kinda idly searching people out. Bob Ostertag is out there (I wonder if he's used the Skull Ball I sent him in a musical composition yet?). I won't bother linking to his profile -- sorry, but I'm figuring you don't really care about seeing it (do I judge my imaginary readership too harshly?). Jim Jarmusch ain't, but Tom Waits seems to have taken a few tries to get a profile he likes up -- which again is private; ditto Henry Rollins, who has four profiles out there. Of course, I suppose any or all of these might be imposters. Anyhow, it's interesting to see that some interesting people are using the site. (William Gibson isn't, by the way... bet you were going to look him up yourself, weren't you? You'd figure he would be -- he should be -- if his kids read this, shape him up, okay.) Oh, yeah... the recently somewhat mistreated-on-this-blog Nina Hagen is, but again it's private... Her opening act, Bakelite, is, too. Hm, who should I look up next? I think maybe Miyazaki Hayao's profile wasn't actually written by him, whatta you think?

As good an example of being idle as I've seen lately...

Finally bought The Winks' CD. Damn they're just so fucking likeable. Click the link and listen to "Snakes," okay? It's what I'm writing as I listen to this (edit: make that "it's what I'm listening to as I write this,") and I think my favourite tune on the disc, or, well, so far.

Cranky in Vancouver

Had the Vancouver conversation again the other day. I did this huge weekend of work at Carson Books -- actually, excuse me while I digress, but here's some free advertising for Tim:

HUGE BOOK AND RECORD SALE THIS WEEK AT CARSON BOOKS! 20% off all softcovers, and 40% off all hardcovers and LPs! Plus we've restocked the LPs and as of this week we have on our shelves rare discs by Sun Ra (Sun Song) and Last Exit (you know, Peter Brotzmann, Bill Laswell, Ronald Shannon Jackson and Sonny Sharrock!)! Also old old Pink Floyd! Vintage Nina Simone! A cool Czechoslovakian pop band called the Rangers who cover "This Land is Your Land" and "Sloop John B" in Czech! A great LP on the wall called Negro Spirituals by the Golden Gate Quartet -- they even manage to make "Amazing Grace" sound fresh and interesting! Sale may last until the end of January, but don't wait! Buy 10 items and we pay the GST!

(Too bad no one reads this blog, I'd hit Tim up for money for that).

-- anyhow, I had the Vancouver conversation again the other night with a customer who came into the bookstore, about how it's difficult to meet people, about how everyone is kind of cliquey and defensive and holds you at a distance. How the arty people cling to their cliques and the non-arty all jockey for status by mountain biking and roller blading and aspiring to be as beautiful as possible, which they're all amazingly proud of and eager to tell you about, since it proves their worth or some damn thing... People also seem to get hung up on very little things -- if you fart too loudly, crack the wrong joke, don't recognize the name someone just dropped... It's like we're dogs who just can't get enough out of sniffing each other's assholes, but at the same time need to pretend we don't like the smell. It's amazing how often this ends up being what people will say, with minor variations, when you ask them about this city -- this time, these were the opinions (uh, creatively restated and expanded upon by yours truly) of a Russian emigre with an English lit background who has travelled extensively, choosing to settle here. She likes the scenery, likes the air, and apparently can make do with the cultural opportunities here, but she just doesn't understand why it seems to be so hard to connect with people. Being not REALLY a Vancouverite myself (I've only lived in the GVRD for the last three years -- otherwise I've been on the outskirts or in Japan), I know exactly what she's talking about. I remember being so relieved at the "quality of alienation" in Japan, where one at least knows one is not to blame for being cut off from the main; race, language, and culture are to blame, not the lack of interest in rollerblading, and it's like a weight gets lifted off your shoulders.

Anyhow, it was a good segue into giving said Russian my number. We may see one of the upcoming Bergman films together.

Another night in the city: an open bottle of wine and a pipe. I guess I'll smoke up and watch a movie, maybe some Guy Maddin. I was going to start a workout program this week, but money is running out again and I just want to take it easy tonight... Sigh.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Thoughts on Bad Lieutenant

Revisited Bad Lieutenant the other night, that little 1980’s masterpiece of self-destruction, spiritual despair, heavy-handed metaphor and masturbatory martyrdom. Haven’t seen it in full since it was a first run theatrical thing at some place, now defunct, on Denman St. (what the hell was it called, the Stardust Theatre or something tacky like that? Remember that place?). I was, quite appropriately, a tad twisted in watching the film, and ended up scribbling a few notes on a piece of paper as a basis for writing later, between puffs on my pot pipe. What might they be? (He smooths out the paper on his desk). Can they be productively developed now, straight, with some distance from my viewing?

1. “Write for J____.” I had a friend who went down some very unhealthy roads re: drugs. He and I used to be acid buddies together; around the time that I calmed down on my drug use and started thinking about making myself employable and socially functional, he began to explore cocaine; later he got into heroin. I remember being horrified at the stories he would tell me – he chuckled when telling me how his mother had found his needles, assumedly (I’ll give him the benefit of a doubt) because he was amused at the out-of-control, melodramatic, problematic aspects of things – a “how fucked up is that” kind of laugh, not something more malign. Indeed it does sound like the basis for a new-style Hank Williams tune (b-side to “I Heard my Mother Praying for me,” a weeper if there ever was one: “I feel like such a jerk/and my dad has gone berserk/since my mother found my works/in my room”). Still, it was kind of disturbing to hear, as were his increasing supply of Hastings St. stories and the blackish boils on his neck (and possibly elsewhere). Not a great thing for a university-educated, creative fella like him to be doing: he was no stranger to what heroin can do to people, and tho’ some of his indulgence maybe can be explained as the youthful arrogance of one who believes himself immortal, in many ways, I felt, he should have known better than to start messing around with needles. Eventually I lost patience; he was feeling sorry for himself, going through some sort of crisis because his girlfriend left him (whose wouldn’t?) and I just had enough; how fucking dare he feel self-pity while making his family and friends watch his wilful transformation into a junkie? No one gets to feel that sorry for himself, in my opinion. Anyhow, I got judgmental; he got hostile, in response, and it more or less ended our friendship. (Our last exchange, by e-mail while I was in Japan, had him threatening to kill me if I ever called him a junkie again, ranting about how they’d have to use dental records to identify me, accusing me of cowardice in deserting him in a time of crisis, and so forth; it's been five years or more since I was last in contact with him). And the thing is: back in the good old days, he and I watched Bad Lieutenant together, perhaps even twice.

Watching the film again, I have to ask myself: how do texts like this function for people who are actually attracted to self destruction? Keitel’s downward spiral and his eventual attempts at self-redemption, when he finally reaches the bottom, surely stand as a sort of validation of the path he’s on: his instincts to destroy himself are precisely what end up bringing him to the point where he collapses and cries and is saved. Another more recent cultural text that romanticizes self-destruction, Fight Club, openly praises its protagonist’s attempts to “reach the bottom” as if it’s the only place worth getting to. This brings me to my second note, in which I ask:

2. Is this film “Catholic porn?” What, really, is with Catholics, anyhow? Are any of them well adjusted in later life? I was raised Catholic, and I’ve got all these crucifix-shaped scars I carved on my arms in my adolescence. The fellow Catholics I’ve been exposed to in the arts are also all fairly tortured souls: Graham Greene, Robert Stone, Georges Bataille, Bad Lieutenant director Abel Ferrara, and Martin Scorsese, to name a few – they’re all fairly obsessed with sexual ill-health (see Scorsese’s Who’s That Knocking at my Door? sometime – Harvey Keitel’s first film and my favourite Scorsese, hands-down; sorry, Marty, but you were never better.) All these guys tend to craft fairly violent and disturbed works of art; none are strangers to the concept of self-destruction (most of Greene and Stone’s heroes are alcoholics or drug addicts, and all are cynics; many of their stories end in suicide, sometimes figured as martyrdom; Ferrara’s other films – most notably The Funeral, his other masterpiece, tho’ also his very flawed but interesting The Addiction – are all violent and wrought through with spiritual suffering, suicide, and so forth). Bataille I won’t even touch on – a true Catholic pornographer, go read The Story of the Eye sometime if you want something hot, sick, and disturbing to reach into your pants and peer into the darkest recesses of your soul… Catholics seem to get off on suffering in some odd way; the eventual peak of catharsis that Bad Lieutenant builds to is like this vast orgasm of tears and helplessness, and the film’s determination to bring us through it and to the compassion and “salvation” on the other end rival’s Dreyer’s Passion of Jeanne D’Arc for sheer spiritual masochism. Certainly I get off on it; I attain some measure of catharsis myself, watching Keitel crying and grovelling on the floor of the church, screaming accusations at a yet-demanding Christ-figure. I cry quite fulsomely through these scenes and feel somehow relieved of something, happier, afterwards. It seems like it’s worth asking: is this healthy?

I mean, maybe, yes, in a way. It’s part of our current nature to avoid painful emotions, to conceal them, to set them aside for later. We have to work, to function in society, to maintain mundane social relationships, to prepare faces to meet the faces we meet. Ever gone through a personal crisis that you couldn’t afford to let affect your job? Where you go to work each day and smile and “act professional,” then go home and cry and contemplate suicide? It’s probably a far more common experience than most people realize. And when the crisis passes and one can function normally, again, how eager are we to revisit the emotions that left us powerless, crying, and terrified? How much more tempting is it to try to lead an easy life, to entertain ourselves, to keep busy, to shunt aside the uncomfortable stuff and fake our way along, even while we know that painful, undealt-with things simmer in our breasts? I mean, isn’t that what consumer capitalism is all about, really? We're all too busy having fun to acknowledge how much pain we're really in.

So on one level, even if it does romanticize self-destruction, maybe there is a certain health to be found in Bad Lieutenant: by dragging us ever downwards, it eventually gets us in touch with those very feelings of powerlessness and despair and fear and loneliness and all that other good stuff that must be suppressed and shut inside, which would interfere with our being happy functional workers– as Bataille would doubtlessly agree; it occurs to me that this is similar to what he talks about at times in Erotism, about the birth of taboos, to contain and control possibly disruptive, deep-running eruptions (involving sex, death, violence, and otherwise herd-threatening emotions). By tapping into those emotions, doing its damnedest to access them in the heart of its viewers, it lets us experience them safely, lets us face them, frees us a little from their unfelt influence by provoking them, forcing them to come forth, getting us in touch with feelings we’d have a hard time safely releasing by some other means. (I suppose this is all fairly Aristotelian but I haven’t read any of that stuff in years). So even if we liken the film’s cathartic peak to some sort of weird orgasm for the Catholic sensibility, maybe it isn’t that bad, and maybe there’s even something to be said for Catholicism.

3. But there’s a third question that need be considered: what I’ve scribbled down as “the herd function of martyrdom.” Let’s be a bit Nietzschean for a moment and assume that pretty much everything that one finds in society exists there because it benefits the herd in some way or another. Why is it valuable that some people – be it my friend J____ or Abel Ferrara or whomever – be attracted to self-destruction, and desire to pursue it and romanticize it? On an individual level, it may function as some sort of bass-ackwards drive towards health – one finds the bottom, so one can experience repressed pains, release one’s sobs, and spring back up; and no doubt that's good for the herd, too – but on a societal level, more often than not, the end result of such drives is that the less healthy, less functional, less sane members of society essentially isolate and remove themselves. I mean, to use a tribal example that I only know as a generalized cliché, but which I guess actually did happen: think of old Inuit people deliberately wandering off into the snow to die, so as not to be a burden on their society. It doesn’t seem like an entirely unhealthy impulse, in harsh survival conditions. We live in a much more complex, less organic, more fragmented “tribe,” and are hardly have the harsh survival conditions that would justify such practices; but perhaps the impulse to punish or destroy oneself is nonetheless some sort of herd-related impulse, where one senses ones disease, ones confusion, the burden one is placing on society, and seeks to make amends. The sick soul is like a sick cell in the social fabric, contemplating removing itself so as to restore social harmony – it’s like a cancer that eats only itself.

That seemed like an interesting thought when I was stoned, but now I’m not so sure. It also doesn’t seem like the only possible explanation of how self-destructive thoughts can be valuable to the herd. Sick, perhaps one threatens oneself with the negative consequences of continuing to remain in an alienated, non-herd-approved state, as a sort of punitive “straighten up and fly right” threat, a different way of pushing the individual back into step with the group?

The Christian trip remains a strange thing, in any case. Christ teaches, basically, that one should value the herd so much as to die for it. “Be not afraid of the cross,” he says somewhere. Of course, Christ wasn’t snorting coke and screwing hookers, as we see ol’ Harvey doing in Bad Lieutenant; it's, shall we say, a different trip. Harvey makes a bad Christ figure (tho' I always loved the full-frontal nude dance that Harvey does when he’s drunk, in that film, reading it as a mocking of the crucifixion.) Tho' he makes a better Christ than he does a Judas (I never really liked The Last Temptation of Christ).

Anyhow, it’s a fun film to see again. Felt a bit more objective about it, this time through. As a younger man, I was more intent on getting off on it somehow. My not doing so, so much, seems a measure of health. Relatively speaking.

Post-script: lying in the bath, it occured to me to note that the one great unresolved question of BL for me is the use of sports. What is the film saying, overall, about the function of sports? The obsession with winning or losing runs an even parallel with the story of a man who may or may not self-destruct without being saved. And more specifically: it's fascinating that Harvey bets consistently against NY while advising his friends to do the opposite. Does he really believe that NY will win, and is betting against them out of some perverse self-punishing denial, or does he really believe LA will win, and wants to jack up his winnings by having as many people bet against them as possible? The film offers no clear answer, tho' it does seem that New York's winning is meant to take on some sort of symbolic value, by the end of the film. (New York does win, insofar as Harvey meets his inevitable violent end).

And now I must go to work.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Great name for a girl group

...the Radiator Ladies. I'm amazed it hasn't been done. I mean, everyone must have seen Eraserhead by now, no?

Nina Hagen in Vancouver

(Hey y'all: this is a first draft, written at 1 AM, when I'm still feelin' the effects of five-or-was-it-six double rye'n'cokes, ordered as a tribute to a chick I almost slept with earlier this week). Thoughts on the Nina Hagen concert:

1. Nina Hagen has sexy feet. Big tits, too. I kept staring at her feet from where I leaned at the front of the stage. White, small, expressive toes, deep red toenails, yowza. She'd come out in this tall patent-I-think-leather platform boots and danced around for awhile in them (initially inspiring the illusion that she was much taller than one expected her to be, unlike, say, Iggy Pop, who is much shorter); but they seemed to be causing her grief hitting the vox effects pedal and at some point, she stripped them off, tore her stockings to expose her toes, and danced around mostly barefoot on the Commodore Stage until the soles of her cute feet were black and grimy. Much like her periodic bra-adjustments (who knew that she was stacked?), it was very distracting. I kept imagining myself backstage, sucking her toes. She is One Hot 50 Year Old. Believe me, I know; I've been with a hot 50 year old and Nina Hagen was hotter. Better feet, too. But the one I was with went down on me, so she was better really.

Nina knows she's hot, too. She even rolled on her back at one point and bicycled up in the air. I half expected her to break out a blanket and crawl naked across the stage for her next number.

2. For all her political correctness, Nina Hagen fucked with the best thing Kurt Cobain ever wrote and midway thru the show rendered herself permanently suspect in my eyes. Look, I ain't gay. I mean, sure, I had my adolescent quasi-homosexual I'll-show-you-mine experiment, and I once spent a day wandering around the suburbs of Coquitlam trying to locate the address of a guy who had offered to go down on me, which apparently didn't exist, thereby fucking up my one moment where the desire for a blowjob overrode my inner homophobe. Generally, tho', it seems less complicated to play it straight, and so I do. That said, I have always been (bein' a bit of a misfit myself, and growing up in a suburb where punks like me were liable to get beaten up as a "faggot" regardless of our sexual preference, and many's the time I've had that word applied to me) sympathetic to th' whole queer rights thing, and as such, I always kinda admired Kurt Cobain for his "everyone is gay" line in "All Apologies." Cobain doesn't seem that important to me (sorry, Kurt), and he wasn't that interesting a singer/songwriter/musician, even less so an interesting martyr (I nominate Phil Ochs, Albert Ayler and mebbe Elliot Smith as the most interesting pop musician martyrs of the 2oth C); but that was still a nice touch, a little queer-friendly bit of politicking in the guise of a pop song (I mean, I even admired Rob Halford for coming out on MTV and completely mindfucking legions of submoronic Judas Priest fans who Somehow Never Noticed, while Rob strutted around in biker gear, singing "Hell Bent for Leather"). If I had some celebrity, I'd do much the same now and then, drop the odd "let's-see-if-we-can-get-this-on-the-radio" line; even in my ESL classes, I routinely do a lesson around queer-bashing and the song "Glad to be Gay" as a consciousness-raiser for my more prejudiced Asian students. I approve of the moral impulse that I assume Kurt felt. And it's a good lyric. Now, then:

a) It is somewhat SUSPECT to begin with that Nina would cover a Nirvana song, in my book. Patti Smith does the same thing -- "Heart Shaped Box" is the tune I've seen her play live -- and it really does suggest some sucky-uppy "validate the youth culture" calculated-kinda move for a, shall we say, less CURRENT old-fart-cashin'-in to make; I didn't really need or buy it, thanks.

b) But if you're gonna do it, you gotta have the guts for the gesture. In the same way that I kinda lost a big chunk o' respect for Leonard Cohen when he MTV'd his lyric in "The Future," "give me crack and anal sex" into "give me speed and careless sex" for the purposes of public performance (delivering the cop-out version even when I saw him live in Vancouver on The Future tour, where he could have easily delivered the original), I had to recoil and step back and ponder whether and how to judge Nina tonight: for she rendered "Everyone is gay" into "Everything's okay." No fucking way! I mean, feel my wrath, here: how can you CASTRATE A DEAD MAN, however negligible in the big picture, while cashing in on his songs' appeal? Why even PERFORM the song if you're going to mutilate it -- as a token of disrespect? Or because "none of these things really matter anyhow?" It was not acceptible. And nor was it, if you're thinking, an ad-lib: Nina had these huge lyric sheets on stage, where other artists might have a setlist, and I was able to peer over and see that this was exactly how she'd written out the words. No, Nina, everything is not okay.

Which is really puzzling (that she would either be afraid of a pro-gay statement or disapprove of it enough to need to alter it, which are the assumptions I'm running on here) because:

3. Nina Hagen is clearly some kind of politically correct, New Agey flake. I mean, as much as I generally play along with this stuff -- my night job is at a bookstore with a huge New Age/ self-help section, so I'm obliged to -- she made quite an effort to cover the bases, tonight: she talked about the Amazon rain forest and how Christ is a tree, even gave a little between-song rap on Louise L. Hay (pet peeve of mine: FUCK Louise L. Hay, and her goddamn dumb dogmatic moronic charts: pain in your left testicle means you think too much with your right brain, and being willing to buy into Hay's shtick means you're an emotional and mental pussy with no capacity to survive; I'll be cheering from the sidelines when the big machines roll down the hill to crush you). (Okay, that's a bit negative, but I've been listening to recent George Carlin records in the last year so I have an excuse). She did this (celebrating Ms. Hay) before singing some song about how you should "refuse your chemicals" and heal yourself without buying into the corrupt medical establishment. Much as I can appreciate the suspicion o' western medicine, I did have one friend who refused treatment of a cancer that eventually killed her because she thought she could beat it by such a route. (Plus I daily supplement my lagging thyroid with synthroid, and so what if I do?). I don't think I quite buy the whole shtick, think it's a bit irresponsible, howevermuch it's a sentiment that people are willing to cheer, and just a tad simplistic. Nina had a whole bunch of more easily digested, easily approved-of messages to offer us during the course of the evening -- that the planet is female and that the men who are destroying it resent this (I dare anyone to publicly disagree); that people should just free themselves and express themselves and be who they are (okay, I guess I gotta go along with that one), that women should unite and seize their power and... what is "demagogue" in German, anyhow? But, oh, I guess she really means it. She's in this week's Terminal City talking about a UFO giving her a special private light show -- I imagine she's sincere about all this stuff, which I guess makes it okay. And the express-yourself-be-yourself kinda message was kinda touching even to a cynic like me. Still, and this is the point of this whole rant, why de-queer Kurt's lyric, if these are her, um, politics?

4. But fuck me for casting aspersions, because: Nina pleased her fans. Except me, I guess. It was a fun night but it didn't exactly roll me over onto my back, even with five (six?) double rye-cokes in me. What she could have done to please me: occasionally she would blow her nose -- she had a bit of a cold, y'see -- and she would always make a point of tossing her snotty tissues away from the audience. I would have had more fun with the night if she'd let me get my hands on one. It would be fun to sell it on eBay; I'm sure I coulda paid this month's phone bill with it, at least. The fact that she made sure I couldn't do this (I guess there are some lows that you just don't wanna see your fandom stoop to) and the fact that there's no way in hell I'll ever lick those cute toes of hers means that I just didn't have the time I could have had at the show, and I'm going to be a bit sour grapes about it for awhile. All that aside, even with relatively few of her "hits" in the set ("NY NY" and "African Reggae" and a set closer of the German version of "White Punks on Dope," but no "Cosmo Shiva," no "Smack Jack," not even a "Universal Radio;"), Nina had the audience dancing and cheering and eating out of the palm of her (dainty white) hands. Her Mabel Longhetti facial mannerisms (she even blew a raspberry at one point to dismiss some right wing POV), her bouncy dark pigtails and leopardy-type semi-translucent leggings (or whatever they were), her overall buoyancy and energy, her occasional forays into oldtime boogiewoogie and blues -- her shtick was a crowd pleaser, and amusing enough, I suppose. Two thumbs up, four stars, and an erection when I think about her toes. I'm not entirely sure, mind you, what exactly was being bought and what was being sold -- an image of a sort of ideal, set free on stage so we can briefly celebrate it and thereby more easily tolerate our dayjobs? -- but clearly everyone was satisfied with the transaction; even Nina seemed to have fun. I dunno, it was just one of those concerts where I think all the time about the suspect aspects of the rock and roll transaction and go home thinking I've somehow been cheated, even tho' everything was exactly what you'd expect a rock concert to be.

Hey, DJ-My-Gay-Husband (or whatever) played the Slits version of "Heard it Thru the Grapevine!" One to find on Soulseek. And Bakelite were pretty good, too, but I'm not gonna try to say anything about them. Bet they have some Joy Division records in their collection.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Here's a concert to, uh, contemplate: David Thomas (of Pere Ubu) will be joining members of the reunited MC5 (and, uh, Handsome Dick Manitoba) for a double billed show featuring the Sun Ra Arkestra (minus, of course, the late Sun Ra) at the Royal Festival Hall in London. I wonder if there are hip folk far richer than myself who will be zooming off from this sorry continent to see the show. Hell, I would: anyone care to be my patron?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Observer Observed, AKA Intimate Encounters of the Third Kind

Stoned on Lavalife -- the phone system. Listening to women. What do these women want, anyways? There are two interesting things about telephone dating systems: 1) you are enabled to hear the bluntly-stated desires of other people. It's like being able to read thought bubbles over the head of the people you see in the grocery store, say, reading things like "I want to be spanked" or "I have a fetish for oral sex" (or "I am looking for a man with good Christian values," which in its own way is far stranger to hear). It's, bless my mediocre soul, an interesting experience to be permitted such a peek; it doesn't arouse the voyeur in me so much as it makes him intently curious, particularly since this is all relatively new technology. I mean, doesn't it make you wonder what, say, Marshall McLuhan would say about it, this chatline phenomenon? If the medium is the message, is the message ultimately of every phone line caller "I'm alone at home and yet still horny; help?" Is there any serious cultural studies work being done on this phenomenon?

The second interesting thing is: 2) the people who are on the phone lines are generally focussed enough on their desires, which basically all rotate one way or another around either orgasm or love, that if you call in in a fit of whimsy (or under the influence of vodka, whiskey, and marijuana, as happens to be the case tonight), and just get genuinely playful with people, or take things even slightly sideways, perhaps crossing a few taboo-oriented boundaries here and there along the way, you can have a fairly interesting time. I spent the last half hour a) ridiculing a masturbating 40-year old's taste in music (she mentioned liking the Eagles and confessed fucking to Journey. I was playful enough about it and she ended up inviting me to have phone sex with her anyhow, so I managed to get away with it, but I got to score a few cheap shots at bad taste along the way, which really was the whole point, and by the way I passed on the phone sex); b) talking to a naive, sweet, sincere youngish French teacher about her experiences of horny corrupt guys online; and c) talking to a person with Downs Syndrome (!) who called in from Victoria. I was convinced she had a foreign accent at first and tried to get her to tell me what country she was from; as an ESL teacher, I couldn't place her speech and was most curious. Turns out it was Downs Syndrome that was behind her speech impediment. (I was very nice to her after discovering that). So I ask you: where else, tonight, could I have ridiculed someone's taste in music at no consequence to myself, perceived the world of masturbating men through the eyes of an idealistic 25 year old, or chatted with someone with Down's Syndrome? Nowhere, I tell you! How dare you suggest I need to get a life!

By the way, the 40 year old with bad taste in music did have one priceless line, about how "intimate encounters" sounds "vaguely SF." It does, doesn't it? Intimate Encounters of the Third Kind.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Winks at Blim

Probably the most musical fun a Vancouver band will provide me this year: the Winks at Blim earlier this evening (note re: link -- lots of cool stuff on their site, including MP3s of their music). Mandolin, cello, baritone sax/flute, and drums: a very quirky musical ensemble indeed, playing oddly structured songs with a strange passion and an awareness of folk, classical, and avant-garde rock forms; leaders Todd and Tyr are both charismatic and interesting to watch, too. Not much that I have to say about them but they were in great form tonight, their playing tighter and their songs more fully realized than I recall them being when last I saw them, about a year ago; Tyr told me they've been practicing and playing a lot and it shows. There's an upcoming gig at the Anza Club, I think she said... Thinking of becoming a Winks groupie. They're doing some of the most interesting music in Vancouver that I'm aware of...

Monday, January 03, 2005

Eugene Chadbourne is a Mensch

Well. Got my first House of Chadula release in the mail this week, a 2 CD set of LSDC&W: A History of the Chadbournes in America (I think that was the full title). Twisted, very fun psychedelic takes on mostly country and western tunes, with a backup band consisting of Tom Cora, John Zorn, Dave Licht, and Kramer, known at the time as the Chadbournes (with, of course, Dr. Chadbourne himself on lead guitar... I don't think he was playing electrified rakes or other non-traditional instruments at that point in his career). Acid buddies of mine used to insist I turn Dr. Chad off whenever I attempted to play it during trips -- it was just too twisted for them. One guy (who later got into heroin, leading to the bottoming-out of our friendship) called Eugene's music a "distortion" of the beauty of the whole psychedelic experience -- he was particularly freaked out by the song "Psychedelic Basement," in which the singer (Dr. Chadbourne) protests how he's never going to please his parents, never going to leave their basement where he's getting high all the time; said friend at the time lived in his parents basement, you understand... Another friend, in response to Shockabilly's "Pile Up All Architecture," talked about feeling embarrassed by the squealings of the "poor creature" on the vocal track (again, Dr. Chad), thought it spoke of psychosis, distortion, decay, just couldn't get into it... Skipping ahead to the cover of "Born on the Bayou" didn't help, either. I just didn't understand. It always seemed to me like the man was in perfect control, just had a slightly, uh, warped sense of humour. I could identify with it quite well (until one day where I'd eaten too many pot cookies at a friend's house, had a really bad freakout/physical rejection of the drug, and ended up puking and shitting for hours, finally mostly passing out, listening to my friends talk about how they hoped I wouldn't die, how "bad" that would be as I slumped against their kitchen wall... LSDC&W was playing in the background for that particular trip, and I must admit, it made a bad soundtrack. Faux disintegration tried on for the fun of it is great, but as a background for the real thing... well...). Anyhow, when I cleaned up in my mid-20s to get back to school and get a career of some sort established, I set aside Dr. Chadbourne's music, as perhaps being a bit dangerous for me. I now feel employable enough and in control to revisit it, and must say, it's a delightful trip!

And the packaging! Dr. Chad has made his own oversized (uneven) cardboard cover and beefed up the CD with a whole bunch of extra, authentic Chadbournes material, including takes on "Take this Job and Shove it," 'Octopus' Garden" and others that weren't on the original 2 LP set I remember for my youth. There're a few songs missing (like a great take on Roger Miller's "Dang Me") that were on the LP, but weren't performed by the Chadbournes (Chad, Cora, Kramer, Zorn and Licht), which he deleted for a more pure-Chadbournes experience, and on mentioning this, Dr. Chad has promised to SEND THEM TOO on an extra disc, which he will heretofore include with the 2 CD set. What a nice guy! And cripes, the House of Chadula catalogue is huge -- pretty much anything Dr. Chad has recorded is available through it by mailorder, and with all sorts of bonus material (in my case he included a funky gig poster from a European tour). I'm arranging to buy Country Music from the World of Islam (a Sun City Girls collaboration), Corpses of Foreign War (one of his "protest" albums, recorded with the help of the Violent Femmes) and a few other old favourites. Make sure to request the homemade packaging if you order. Caveat: some of Dr. Chad's recordings abandon the idea of the "song" and involve some very weird noise indeed -- from concept pieces like adapting Bach for the 5 string banjo to free jazz jams. It ain't all Roger Miller. That's probably a good thing, too, tho', eh?

Sunday, January 02, 2005

No animals dead in Sri Lanka tsunami?

An interesting article: in Sri Lanka (at the very least) there are no dead animals being found in the wake of the tsunami. People are speculating that animals know when these things are going to happen. I wonder if there's truth in that, or if people just aren't looking hard enough to see if there are dead animals about. They probably don't stand out as much as human corpses.

There's at least one good political article on Znet about this disaster. Shocked to read the following paragraph:

According to a Reuters report on December 28 from Los Angeles the wall of
water set off by the earthquake was in fact tracked by U.S. seismologists
who said they had no way to warn local governments of the danger. In this
age of instant messaging, email, mobile phones, spy satellites and 24-hour
television it is difficult to believe that claim.

Also, we discover that

government seismologists in Thailand did soon after they detected the quake on December 26, but failed to issue appropriate warning because they were afraid of scaring off tourists!! As an anonymous government official explained to a Bangkok newspaper, a day after disaster struck, “Six years ago a similar warning that turned out wrong brought great recrimination upon us”. Well, that was a typical Thai/Asian ‘Risk Ass but Save Face’ hesitation that cost precious lives.