Friday, July 29, 2005

Strange Dreams

I don't know why, but I've been having very active, intense dreams lately. Lack of caffeine? More exercise than usual? Nice weather? I feel like I'm sleeping and dreaming more deeply than I normally do.

In one, I am to receive some sort of blessing for my virtues. I have to pick it up at a departments store, but the staff are incompetent and I have to leave and come back later. I leave. On the way back to the store, later in the evening, I travel with my mother, walking through dark woods. En route, we witness a child being fiercely, abusively scolded and hit by his parents; I lecture some Christian rock fans about the way the crucifixion actually felt, including a rather odd detail involving Christ being beheaded; and I am confronted with various people from my past, whom I treat rudely and impatiently. I become very obnoxious -- why do I have to deal with all these idiots? Don't these people understand that I'm blessed, that I'm special? My tirades against former friends and my impatience with my parents makes it clear that I have long since lost the right to receive any such blessing...

In another dream, the Japanese holocaust denier that I know, with whose attempts to befriend me I had to try to find some way to cope, when I lived in Japan, is back in my life and wants me to help him murder someone in his family. (You can read my account of that, under my former alias, Pemmican, here). I play along with him, letting him think that I will help him; really I am planning to betray him and turn him over to the police. I wake feeling disloyal, a hypocrite, a turncoat.

In yet another dream, I have a large quantity of LSD which I'm sharing with people; I take some, and get very high myself -- and in the dream, it really feels like I'm on acid; I recall even thinking, with surprise, that it felt very real for a dream (when I wake up, the feeling lingers and it takes awhile to return to my normal mindset). At one point, high, I am looking at my face in the mirror, and discover that a large patch of flesh beneath my left eye has turned into a rotting mass of pus and decay; I squeeze out the fluids, my skin soft and grey.

I often have dreams where I'm looking for something or someone which I am responsible for and which I know is in danger, but which I can't locate; or trying to solve some mystery; or trying to fight some great evil, which constantly overpowers me, changing forms and tactics, hiding in the world around me, turning on me out of nowhere with great malignancy and force. I'm sure I've had a few dreams that fit this pattern, too, but none are clear. I'm finding these dreams quite interesting, lately; somehow it seems like a good thing.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

New Pet Peeve: or, Fuck Metro

You're walking to work in the downtown core, thinking about the day ahead, enjoying the summer weather, which seems finally to have arrived to stay. A crosswalk is ahead, the red hand flashing. You're used to dodging homeless people, junkies, and panhandlers as you make your way to work; after awhile, living in the city, you've struck a balance you can live with between being compassionate and having firm boundaries, and they've sort of faded into the background, as a sort of unavoidable urban noise. At the corner, though, as you approach, is a brand new nuisance, awaiting you: a smiling person in a green smock is thrusting a free newspaper at you. You've looked at the newspaper; it is decidedly short on news. There are lots of pictures, mostly of the beautiful, famous, and well-dressed, and tiny, barely-meaningful blurbs for stories -- the print equivalent of soundbites; significant events of the day reduced to an eye-catching (some would say crass) headline and a tiny paragraph, given equal space with Brad Pitt's recent hospitalization or Britney Spears' need to diet. All are sort of jumbled together in no apparent order, and subordinated to the shining happy icons of success that smile from each picture. It's pure crap culture, not even as respectible as a tabloid, and you loathe pretty much everything these newspapers stand for: the obsession with celebrity, the trivialization and commodification of experience, the diminishment of the language, and the ascendancy of the short attention span; but more than that, you resent that the vendors (two or three at every busy interesection, usually, during peak hours) are thrusting the paper at you as if they're offering you something. Dodging these smiling, well-groomed flunkies with their "free paper" extended is worse than having to dodge homeless people; at least the homeless need the money that they're begging you for. The publishers of Metro certainly don't; their papers are just an excuse for advertising, an attempt to make money under the pretext of giving; all they hope to do by handing the papers out is create a niche for their paper, which no one really needs, so that they can guarantee future advertising revenue for themselves. The concern for the reader is as slight as the concern for the events of the world that the paper pretends to deal with: the Metro website -- which is entirely skewed towards potential advertisers -- describes their audience as a "demographic group (which doesn't typically read) daily newspapers but is most attractive for advertisers." They boast, like they're proud of their achievements, that "Metro is therefore not only delivering a new generation of newspaper readers but also the ‘premium TV audience’ that advertisers so prize. Metro is a prime time ambient media that reflects modern people’s busy lives and capitalizes on the downtime commute in the morning to deliver a unique global audience."

Prime Time ambient media? Does someone have a submachine gun I can borrow?

To drop the second person artifice, I can't express with sufficient disgust how I feel when these people stick their advertisement-vehicle in my face. Metro, alas, has an international reach -- Vancouver is merely the newest city they've extended their operations to. They're producing crap that no one needs, and thrusting at us at every fucking corner. We don't need them; no one does; they should go learn how to make money by doing something useful. The vendors don't even appear to be particularly poor; if at least they were homeless, Metro wouldn't have created a whole new class of people to dodge on the way to work...

A suggestion to anyone who might read this -- unless you genuinely feel that Metro is adding to your life (which is hard for me to imagine), ignore this paper when it's thrust at you. Give an icy look to the vendor and walk on by. There'll be copies lying around the office when you get there, if you need them (they might actually be useful for starting fires or as a last-ditch substitute for toilet paper, in an emergency). Don't encourage these people; if no one takes their crappy rag, they'll eventually give up and leave Vancouver.

Alas, I expect they're here to stay...

Monday, July 25, 2005

I Want to See a Movie, But...

Is this a common experience for anyone other than me? I've scanned the listings three times over trying to find something I want to see; I really would like to go to a movie tonight, to sit in a big, air-conditioned room with other hopefuls and surrender myself to the flow of images onscreen. I can't really find anything I'm wholeheartedly enthusiastic about, though. I've whittled it down to:

a. Howl's Moving Castle at Cinemark Tinseltown.

I love the films of Miyazaki Hayao, and I'll see this eventually, but I don't really feel like seeing an animated film, however substantial it's likely to be, tonight; I'd like something a bit more adult, a bit more "serious."

b. Sideways and Kingdom of Heaven at the Ridge:

The most promising double bill out there. I avoided both films when they were first run -- Sideways, because I expect it sucks up a bit too much to the self-pity and angst of the demographic it appeals to (which, alas, is apparently mine -- dissatisfied thirtysomethings); and Kingdom of Heaven because I expect it sucks up to Muslim viewers in uber-liberal fashion, giving "right-thinking" viewers a chance to congratulate themselves for their right thoughts -- without seriously accomplishing much else. Feeling like I understand what a film accomplishes before I see it can sometimes suck all desire right out of me, particularly when it can be reduced to one form of masturbation or another. (Not to knock masturbation; but the physical kind is actually more respectable than the mental, no?).

c. The Devil's Rejects:

Say what one will, this film is likely made with a genuine love of its genre, if Rob Zombie's previous film, House of 1000 Corpses, is any indicator; and as a work of fandom, it's likely to have a fan's self-aware intelligence and ability to play with genre conventions in clever and sometimes thought-provoking ways. I happen to be fond of horror films, too. However: I somehow doubt Zombie has gotten more skillful as a filmmaker since his debut, tho' the favourable reviews on finds out there would suggest otherwise; and I don't really feel like rolling around in blood, gore, and feces tonight. Besides, what, really, does one gain from watching a film like this? (Damn you, Ray Carney! You've made it so much harder for me to stomach crap culture!).

Feeling enthusiasm for none of these, I'm left going through the "repertory cinemas" section of the Straight, but the only "serious" film that I want to see out there is Bergman's Saraband -- and I've seen it once already, and plan to see it again later this week.

Oh, well. I guess I can stay home and read a book. I really want to see a movie, though!

Waah!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Ingmar Bergman's Saraband at the Cinematheque




















Reasons to see Bergman's Saraband, playing through much of the week at the Pacific Cinematheque:

1. It is probably the final film Ingmar Bergman will ever make, and is recognizable as an entry in Bergman's body of work; it has his flavour. For those who care about cinema, that's enough. Why more people don't care -- why people here genuinely want to eat the cinematic equivalent of McDonald's Happy Meals every time they go to the cinema -- is a mystery and a profound disappointment to me. (And what a truly vapid, valueless couple of years we've had at the Cineplexes! Short of Constantine, which I was quite fond of, in it's silly, noirish way, there hasn't been a commercially distributed film in North America that I've felt would be worth the time wasted to investigate. I walked out of The Ring 2, left Solondz's Palindromes sad because it requires me finally to admit that Ray Carney is right and that Solondz has almost nothing substantial to offer, and sat through Star Wars wondering why anyone would spend money on such crap. Otherwise -- leaving aside Land of the Dead, which I've already written about -- I haven't felt any desire at all to even enter a multiplex lately. Which is sad, because I like seeing films on the big screen...

2. Unlike the brash, loud spectacles at commerical movie theatres, Saraband is spare, quiet, and almost entirely focused on the emotions and words of the characters. It creates a space we can inhabit and reflect in, which, as a friend of mine has said, feels more like life than life itself generally does. Bergman has compared making a film to the building of a church, and while it's not quite what he meant -- his emphasis was on the collective effort of a community to produce something from which the community can benefit -- there is something to his films -- including this one -- that does have the feeling of entering a church; there are things that are sacred, that deserve respect and contemplation, within a Bergman film, and that, in his 80's, he should invite us again into this space -- it's a privilige.

3. It deals with important and universally relevant human themes: loss of love; fear of aging, dying, being left alone; disappointment in oneself; enmity between family members; the incapacity to affect change; the possible final meaninglessness of all our dramas, and the anxiety and emptiness this leaves us with. To see a film that actually has the ambition and courage to grapple with these things is, alas, an exceptional experience for reflective adults...

4. It contains fine and moving performances from Erland Josephsen and Liv Ullman, two Bergman regulars we have seen little of in recent years; Josephsen is in his early 80's and Ullman in her late 60s, so it is uncertain how much more we will be seeing of either of them. They reprise their roles from Scenes from a Marriage (a far better Bergman film, actually); but it is not necessary to have seen the earlier film. Like the best theatre, we are drawn into their lives and feelings and held with great intensity. There is a great economy of means in both the mise-en-scene and the performances, which facilitate reflection and emotional involvement in a way the brash, emotive, visually assaultive dramas of Hollywood simply cannot do.

Reasons to have low expecations when you go see Saraband:

1. There is an awkward narrative device employed, where Liv Ullman addresses the camera directly. This has been done before by Bergman, in Hour of the Wolf, but it doesn't work so well here, seems like it allows Bergman to take shortcuts.

2. The problems raised in the film are not satisfactorily resolved. It is possible that this is connected to the theme of the film -- in the film, like in life, there are questions that are left hanging -- but we are left unsatisfied no less, and wondering why information that could be provided is withheld. By the climax of the film, we care considerably about receiving the answers to several questions (Why does Johan hate Henrik so? What will come of Henrik? What will happen to Karin?) which seem connected to the theme of the film; all these questions are left hanging, as we revert to Ullman's narration, which doesn't even attempt to tie up these various loose ends. We're left wanting another half-hour of film, wondering why Bergman has rushed; the film seems to stop, more than it finishes.

(Note: my ladyfriend, who quite liked the film, sees in this a respect for the audience -- not everything needs to be resolved; I'll see the film again with her and see how I feel then...).

3. The devices employed by the film are not as effective as one might hope, lack the force with which similar devices are employed in other Bergman films. Take the matter of the photograph of Henrik's dead wife, Anna, which we see several times; Bergman lingers on the image, seemingly straining to convey the idea that there is a sort of capacity to love, a capacity for sacrifice, that is no longer present among these characters -- that they lack something, which Anna possessed, which they now must struggle without. This absence could probably be productively connected to the silence of God in Bergman's famous trilogy; but somehow, though Bergman makes the significance of the image very explicit, it lacks the force that it should have. For all his straining, it seems a sentimental image of a lost love, not a symbol of the loss of love in general. One sees what he intends -- but doesn't feel it.

4. Somehow the film's intimacy works against it; we are left feeling like we have watched a drama about very human characters, but not necessarily a commentary on humanity. Why this should be so about Saraband, and not Bergman's other chamber dramas, I can't say, but for me, to speak purely subjectively, the film seems small in scope and effect, where one wants it to be much bigger, fitting our hopes and expectations. Again, all this may change when I see the film a second time.

5. And here's the saddest thing: it's shot and projected off video, which detracts considerably from the quality of the image. I understand why this should be -- but I so love the look of Bergman's films that I can't but regret this.

It should be seen regardless, for those who care about cinema. I'll go again next week...

Post Script:

Actually, on second viewing, it all fell into place, and I greatly admired the film; my expectations and hopes of the film interfered with my first viewing, but on second viewing it all came clear; this is another great Bergman film. Pardon my initial reservations -- sometimes it takes a second viewing.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Bowen Island Vacation



Ah, what a marvelous two and a half days! Neverminding the mild sunburn from ocean kayaking, I feel as healthy and clean and fit as I have in quite awhile. Long walks in the forest, a delightful, largely pine-furnished cottage, a hot tub, several deer, and the company of a wonderful woman -- who could sanely ask for more? (And I haven't even mentioned the sake, or being able to turn over rocks and show my ladyfriend the strange and marvelous creatures under them, to her initial dismay... but she eventually even touched a crab!). Tho' it's a bit pricy, I highly recommend Wildwood Lane Cottages for an easily-accessed getaway -- you have to schedule your hot-tub and sauna visits around when other guests are using it, but otherwise, it's one of the nicest, cleanest, most comfortable resorts I've been to, mostly designed and built by the owner himself, we gather...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Cougars of Bowen Island

I get nervous when I go into the forest. I can vividly imagine what it's like to be attacked by a cougar. I read a book, Cat Attacks, on the topic -- about how they'll stalk you for miles, leap on you from behind and above, about how if you make eye contact, throw stuff at them, and show no fear, you can sometimes bluff them into leaving you alone. I somehow have this scenario in mind where I have to fight one to the death with a knife, perhaps to save a fair damsel. I set out for Bowen Island in about ten minutes. I thought this would make a good "famous last post," just in case. Eerie, huh? It's almost like I knew it was going to happen.

Ahem. Are there cougars on Bowen?

Monday, July 18, 2005

Animal (Sex) Farm

Riiiiight: so there's this farm in Washington, where bestiality is still legal, that has become a hot tourist spot for people who want to have sex with livestock; it gets advertised on the internet and people come for miles. Primarily to get it on with horses. The article is less descriptive than I would have liked, but it seems to suggest that in at least some of the sex going on, the animals are the ones mounting the people; one visitor was rushed to a hospital, where he died of a perforated colon, which is what brought the farm to the attention of authorities. Some videotapes seized also show this unusual angle on horse sex. Enumclaw police are now watching the videos, looking for some way they can charge the farm owners with a crime, since having horses fuck you is not, per se, illegal there.

This means somewhere there are police officers being paid to watch horses fuck men. I wonder what the mood in the viewing room is? Bemused? Disgusted? (I think a certain amount of humour would be entirely appropriate, myself, and perhaps even a psychological necessity). After how many hours of watching such stuff does one require counselling?

One wishes animals could talk.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Garage Saling in the West End

I had some odd experiences garage saling in the west end today. The first garage sale I came to had a bunch of books donated by a woman who read voraciously, but was going blind. I bought a copy of East of Eden for 25 cents; since it's been Oprahfied, it sells fairly well. The second one I came to had a sign in front of the building saying the sale for Saturday was cancelled, and that the Sunday sale would be happening "come rain or shine," but the sale itself was nowhere to be seen. I continued along, to discover the woman who was supposed to be having the sale struggling to affix a sign to a tree with a piece of string, as wind blew it about. I helped her, asked when the sale would be starting; she apologized that it was late, then explained, "My father died yesterday and I really don't feel like having the sale, but..." After formulaic expressions of sympathy and an offer of aid which she didn't take me up on, I continued on, wondering at these bits of information -- blind wives, dead fathers; what would come next? The weather was pleasant, though -- a nice combination of sun and breeze -- and the tree-lined, shadowy sidewalks of Harwood and Cordero and Nelson made for an enjoyable walk. I watched a bird trying to land on the side of a stone wall, which seemed odd; I inspected the wall to see if there were bugs on it that the bird might have been trying to eat, but there weren't any. I shook my fist at cawing crows, daring them to swoop me, as they seem inclined to do this time of year (I called at one, "I know your kind!" and made a threatening sound in response to its caws, looking around after to see if anyone had observed me). I acquired books by Gunter Grass, Jose Saramago, Louise Brooks, Northrop Frye, George Orwell, and others; I found an old LP, in VG+ shape, by Sarah Vaughan. Nearing English Bay, I ran into a seller who described himself as an "antiquarius book dealer," who took me up to his apartment and showed me a first edition of David Copperfield he's selling on eBay, letting me handle it without a blink, without knowing whether I knew the first thing about books; this despite his stated hope to get more than $2000 Canadian for it -- which seems, having done research, to be a fourfold overestimate of its worth, given the condition of the book. I know that sort of greedy, hopeful state, though, and the desire to show off such an item. (He showed off a nicer Kerouac, Satori in Paris, that I drooled over a little, and an Aldous Huxley that he mis-identified as having been published in 1828, long before Huxley was born; the copyright page stated 1928, quite clearly).

Crossing Davie, I eavesdropped on a deeply tanned gay man with dyed blonde hair telling his friend about how he'd visited someone at their house and "played board games." Adults play board games? Well, I guess I play Scrabble with my parents...

Walking up Nelson, reading one of the books I bought off the "antiquarius" guy, Die, Nigger, Die, by black political writer H. Rap Brown -- grateful that the cover clearly displayed that the author was black, but still feeling a little self-conscious about the title -- I felt a sudden, startling presence on my back, and a fluttering of wings; a bird was attempting to land between my shoulderblades! I reached back with one hand, brushing at it; the bird persisted for a minute, then fluttered to the sidewalk, sitting there, looking up at me. "Stupid fucking bird!," I told it. I stared at it for a second, and it stared at me. It wasn't a robin or a crow or a starling; I'm not sure what it was. It had a big dark eye and light brown feathers, similar to a bird that flew in my window last year. Why would a bird try to land on me?, I wondered; and, what could this be an omen of? I backed off, cautiously; the bird continued to sit there, until an approaching mother with toddler startled it and it flew off, apparently unharmed.

Walking back to my apartment, I heard a loud chirp in my ear, at one point, as of a bird close by. My whole body instinctively leapt into a ducking, protective posture, as if I were being shot at. I looked around a bit self-consciously after that, too. These birds, man. You gotta watch out for them.

At least I found a few good books.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

E-mail to George W. Bush

Amnesty International is asking people to participate in an e-mail campaign to urge investigation of the tortures and human rights violations we have witnessed as part of the war on terror. Never one to merely cut and paste, I added my own introductory paragraphs to this e-mail, which I just sent to George W. Bush.

Dear Mr. President:

The reports of torture, abuse, religious desecration, assaults on civilians and prisoners, and other such human-rights violations that have steadily issued from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo are depressing, disturbing, and seem to me to be evidence that the world is slipping into a sort of barbarism where human rights and human life are valued at a very cheap price indeed, particularly by your government. It is not acceptable for the “leaders of the free world” to act in this manner; just as police officers need to be held to a higher standard than ordinary citizens, the United States needs to wield its power with restraint and concern for the lives of those it affects; Iraqi, Afghani, and Muslim rights and freedoms are not worth less than the rights and freedoms of the people of the US, and for your government to act with such unconcern for them as to employ such means as witnessed in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib is for it to serve as a recruiter for America’s enemies; such actions are an argument against the righteousness of the American people and against your government. The War on Terror, as it is being practiced, is making the world a far more dangerous place than it was prior to your election; yet it is in your means to take action to do something about this.

Perhaps, like much of the rest of the world, you feel powerless – the pawn of forces larger than yourself, who have given you the trappings of power and the luxuries it affords you, which you seem to enjoy; yet you have it in your means, Mr. President, to exercise true power and bring to justice the war criminals in your own government, and to make amends for the grotesque wrongs wrought by your country during your last two terms. I am certain, unless you truly are a sociopath (as some on the left would have it), that the images of torture which we have all seen disturb you and prey on your conscience. Perhaps you do not feel personally responsible for them, but the world does not view matters in this way, and expects and hopes you will, as the President of your country, assume responsibility for righting the wrongs seen here:

http://www.thememoryhole.org/war/iraqis_tortured/

These things have happened on your watch, Mr. President. If you take insufficient action to put the situation right, you are as guilty of the crimes depicted in these photos as any soldier called on by his leaders to beat and abuse prisoners. If you have not dwelt on the matter much, please, Mr. President, ask yourself as you look on these images what sort of legacy this is, if these photos are how you wish to be remembered in the history books; if you want your grandchildren to deny any relationship with you, so ashamed are they of the blood on your hands. To atone for such crimes, it is not sufficient to simply punish the soldiers whose hand you guided. More must be done. The United States is not Syria, not Uzbekistan; it must lead by example and show the world that torture is unacceptable and abhorrent and NOT a matter of policy. As a citizen of a country that is also included on Al Qaida’s “hit list,” Canada, due to our support of your country’s actions, I pray that you will take actions fitting of a leader who is concerned with preserving world peace and safety, and make it your utmost priority to make amends for what your country has done, and the damage your presidency has done to the image of America.

Mr. President, it is still within your means to become a hero to all people in the world, rather than a hated enemy; you need only follow your conscience, and wield your power as a statesman and as a man with a moral conscience to bring justice for these crimes.

The remainder of this note is cut-and-pasted from the website of Amnesty International. I am hoping enough of these e-mails have reached you that you are familiar with its contents; I thought a fresh beginning might hold your attention awhile.

Mr. President, I urge you to support the establishment by the US Congress of an independent commission of inquiry with subpoena powers to investigate all aspects of the USA’s “war on terror” detention and interrogation policies and practices with a view to ensuring full accountability for any violations of international law including acts of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that have occurred. I also urge you to request the Attorney General to appoint a special counsel to conduct a criminal investigation into any involvement of administration officials in such violations.

I urge you to ensure that all US-run places of detention, without exception, are opened to regular, independent, unannounced and unrestricted visits of inspection by expert UN human rights mechanisms. I urge you to adopt their recommendations for safeguards to prevent further torture and ill-treatment, and to ensure full implementation by the USA of the safeguards set out in Amnesty International’s 12-Point Programme for the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment by Agents of the State.

Those who perpetrate crimes of torture and other ill-treatment and those up the chain of military and civilian command responsible for ordering, facilitating or acquiescing to such crimes should be prosecuted.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Yours sincerely,
Allan MacInnis

Friday, July 15, 2005

Torture at Gitmo as Precedent for Abu Ghraib

This shouldn't really surprise anyone, of course, but it's nice to see it in print. I wonder if any American newspapers are running it?

Three Headed Ant on eBay

Article here, but I can't find the eBay listing.

Now I'll be singing "Two-Headed Dog" to myself all morning... Or maybe "Three-headed Ant," to the same tune.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Upcoming Shows: New Model Army, Acid Mothers Temple

Y'all paying attention? The New Model Army play Richards on Richards on Sept. 21st and Japanese psychedelic freaks the Acid Mothers Temple (& the Melting Paraiso UFO) play there on Sept. 28. I heartily encourage you, whomever you might be, to go. Assuming you're in Vancouver...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Pond Interlude

Before I collected weird CDs and bits of interesting cultural ephemera, I caught snakes, frogs, and whatever other strange creatures I could find in the ponds and fields of Maple Ridge, where I grew up. They’ve all been duplexed and condo’d out of existence, now, but I have many happy memories of chasing after the small green treefrogs of a place we called, simply, the Frog Pond, or turning over boards to catch garter snakes (even better if you spotted them squiggling quickly through a field, and managed to grab them – there was an actual adrenal rush that accompanied such a capture). I used to love the smell of a garter snake’s noxious aroma, which it excretes to defend itself from predators, and when I occasionally see a snake in my adulthood, I’ll almost always pick it up and sniff it (as it slimes its goo over my fingers) for the nostalgic rush it gives me. I remember giant water beetles, salamanders, all sorts of creatures I encountered in my explorations; I even reacted enthusiastically when I discovered that there were leeches at the Frog Pond, which I immediately placed on my arm, to let them suck my blood, just to see how it felt (I figured I had blood to spare). The other kids in my elementary school thought I was a freak, and I remember phoning people I knew to invite them to go catch snakes with me and receiving an amused, horrified, “what are you, a weirdo” kind of response (this from 12 year olds, albeit middleclass ones, with their sense of suburban normalcy already deeply entrenched; they’d rather stay home and watch hockey, or play a sport themselves, like they were supposed to do. I had other things on my mind). My closest friends, though – mostly from the lower-class, aging condominium where my parents had moved us – understood and joined me without question. I imagine my love of hunting out books, movies, and music now has much to do with my love of catching and bringing home such critters then.

Thanks to the promptings of a ladyfriend, who knows I need more exercise, I took a hike around Stanley Park this afternoon after work, and passed a pleasant hour sitting by Beaver Lake. The smell of the pond (because it’s far more a pond than a lake), stagnant, fetid, brackish – brought back this smell of my childhood and I drifted in reverie for a long time, sitting on a little wooden platform that extended a short ways out over the water. There I observed the blooming, white, pink and purple flowers of the lilypads; the low intermittent thrum of a single distant bullfrog; the wriggling tail and bulbous, egg-sized body of a bullfrog tadpole; abundant dragonflies and damselflies (one of which landed on my shirt); and the songs and cries of various birds. I tried to tune out the noise of cyclists on the trail or the constant seaplanes flying overhead. I remembered from my youth that if you’re silent and still for long enough at a pond, the creatures aren’t as timid, and will emerge and go about their business, where normally they would flee you. (I remember being 15 or so, standing on the edge of a large pond off Pitt Polder, watching bullfrogs float up from where they’d been hiding, to drift along the surface of the water, ducking under if I shifted too visibly). Storks do the same thing -- they just stand there, until something comes close enough, not realizing a predator is close by.

Of course, I'm less of a predator now. Content to observe, happier not to interfere: the fruits of adulthood, I guess.

Walking back out onto the trail, I encountered several squirrels and something that looked like a cross between a squirrel and a chipmunk – it had lighter fur, a much smaller body, and shorter tail than your garden-variety (so to speak) B.C. squirrel, so I’m not sure exactly what it was. I stopped on a bridge to watch it; it had an unusual way of moving. It would move its whole body, almost in a bouncing, jerking jump, of sorts, then stop, and examine what was in front of it, to see if any of it was edible. It would pause like that for a minute, and then bounce-shift again, like it was simply too high strung to just take a step; it had to move its whole body, then be still. It came quite close to me, and I was finding it very pleasing to watch, when suddenly a bird gave a loud twitter from the forest on the other side of me, and, as if warned by the bird, the animal darted off. A minute after that, a large raccoon stepped out of the bushes on one side of the trail; it was as if the bird cried out “a raccoon is coming” and the squirrel-thing new enough bird to get out of the area. The raccoon looked at me for a minute, sizing me up, then continued to the other side of the trail.

I lingered on the bridge for a minute, watching minnows in the shallow creek below, before continuing, figuring I’d give the ‘coon ample time to meander on its way – I’ve had them growl at me when threatened, and I didn’t want to cause that sort of reaction. To my surprise, as I passed the area where it’d gone, I noticed that the ‘coon was still there, watching me intently from cover. I bent down to meet its eyes. It began to sniff the air. Wanting it to see similarity in me, I began to sniff the air, too. It seemed to relax a bit; I backed off and watched. The animal, with its long, furless, black forepaws, came forward and began to dig in the muck at the base of a rotting skunk cabbage, pulling up something and eating it. Bugs? Roots? I couldn’t tell, but it plunged its arms into the muck (reminding me oddly of the experience of doing dishes) to bring up morsel after morsel, which it busily chewed. I recalled that I had some hard candies in my bag, and I unwrapped and threw one to the ‘coon; last I saw this beast, it was chewing my gift with great effort and determination.

Walking out of the park, I took a little detour from the trail; it was interesting to notice that there was someone camped out in the middle of things, clearly someone homeless, in a ramshackle tent, with clothing, cookware, and garbage strewn about it. It would be a very different life, to wake up every day in that park. It’s probably far easier to romanticize than it is to do; I don’t think I’ll be buying a tent anytime soon. I do think I’ll start spending more time there, though.

Snake Dies After Biting Priest

I guess the moral is, don't bite priests.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Paul Dutton, Phil Minton

I e-mailed (poet, novelist, vocal improviser, musician) Paul Dutton awhile back on his thoughts on the differences between what I saw as his more "controlled" style of vocal performance, versus the more improvisatory, spontaneous-seeming performances of Phil Minton. (Some of my thoughts are below, on the Subhumans/Phil Minton post). He writes back:

Thanks for your e-letter, for your very thoughtful reflections on Phil’s and my performances. I never really thought about the differences that much. I think that what you’re calling control is more a matter of performance demeanour. I think I tend to be less animated than Phil, but I don’t see his greater physical motility as a lack of control. And he certainly has impeccable voice control. Phil doesn’t really do pre-structured abstract vocal pieces, as I do, though he does sing interpretive melodic songs (his duets with pianist Veryan Weston , for instance, on the recordings *Ways* and *Ways Past*, which I think I’ll go and get and listen to right now, as a matter of fact; they’ve recently done a couple more “Ways” CDs, but I don’t know the titles of those, so maybe if you search the Net for “Minton and Weston”; also of spectacular merit is their “Songs from a Prison Diary,” an oratorio). As for pure improvisation, I strive in that mode to be taken over by the music, to surrender to something beyond me; and this is something that I perceive Phil to be doing (however he might perceive it himself). And no, I don’t think that musical or literary backgrounds are determinants of the differences between our performance styles. I in fact do have extensive musical background, though not in jazz. I’ve written at length about that (along with other matters) in Bananafish 17, which I think is still in print. If you’re interested, the mail-order url is . There’s an accompanying CD, as well. If you want the issue, but can’t secure it from Bananafish itself, I have spare copies — but I’m trying to minimize the amount of packaging and mailing in my life, so please request it of me only as a last resort.

Good to hear from you. Thanks again. Take care.
All the best,Paul

(I had asked him if he minded my posting his comments on my blog, and I assume the answer was no, since he didn't mention it; if I misunderstood -- Mr. Dutton, just let me know and I'll remove it!).

London Suicide Bombers ID'd

Looks like the people responsible for the attacks were young Muslim Pakistani men raised in England, who were recruited by Al Qaida. In the Independent, they suggest that this is particularly disturbing, since it means that it's not a matter of keeping terrorists out -- it's people already in Britain, already established there (one was a university student and cricketer, one's father ran a chip shop, etc). Odd, though, to imagine -- that youth who grew up in England could be persuaded to do such a thing. I'm not sure what to chalk it up to -- ethnic divisions within the country? The alienation and powerlessness (and extremism) of youth, and their desire to "make a difference?" (surely terrorists deliberately seek recruits among the young). The force of a religious argument? The current political climate? Robert Fisk, also in the Independent (but quoted here), has written about the need for Britain to stop backing the US and to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, but surely the terrorists know that their action will have the opposite effect -- that when attacked, people rally around their leader. It seems an insane, damaging action. It would be very interesting to understand what these youths believed they were accomplishing... There's an article here, but I've only just begun to read it...

Monday, July 11, 2005

Requests for Next Year's Jazz Festival

Attention Coastal Jazz people!

Here's a brief list of people I'd like to see here next year. Please bear in mind that my tastes in music matter:

Avant guitarists Eugene Chadbourne, Fred Frith, Derek Bailey, and/or Keiji Haino. Especially Keiji Haino.

Japanese artists Hiroaki Katayama (or De-Ga-Show), Natsuki Kido (or Bondage Fruit), Kazutoki Umezu (or Komatcha Klezmer or the KiKi Band), and/or Fumio Itabashi (an amazing pianist who has played with all these guys, I imagine).

Peter Brotzmann!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rarely-seen underground icons Jandek and Nurse with Wound! That'll put us on the map -- between them, they've played five shows, as of this blog!

Ornette Coleman! Cecil Taylor! (If they're still around).

More John Zorn related stuff... this year was pretty thin, NewYorkwise. I'd still like to see Ikue Mori come through -- Vancouver New Music tried a couple of years ago, but it didn't work out. I'm also a big Jamie Saft fan, myself (f'd up pothead Semitic dub. Go figure).

How about Bill Laswell?

If we're going to focus on Europe, let's bring anarcho-punk improv band The Ex to town! They've played with lots of European improvisers (ICP Orchestra, Han Bennink, others). Since we like Europe, let's have Maja Ratkje and/or Fe-mail and/or Spunk come over, or Supersilent (yeah, Maja and Supersilent were both here a couple of years ago... bring 'em again!).

I also really like vocal improv stuff -- I really enjoyed Paul Dutton's performance at the festival a couple of years ago, and I loved Phil Minton and Maggie Nicols this year. Let's have more of that! (...what was the name of that guy who played with Locus Solus? Blegvad?). Jaap Blonk? Who else could we bring in, that we haven't seen here before? Meredith Monk?

...and I'm all for bringing Maggie 'n' Phil back, myself... Hell, bring back the whole Dedication Orchestra, they were great!

...ummm... who else? Is Marion Brown still around? What about Sunny/Sonny Murray? Or Sonny Simmons? Or...?

Damn, there was someone else who would be just perfect, but I forgot who...

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Brief Spyware Panic Recedes

Thanks, Dan!

(I've had a hellish week struggling with a deeply malevolent, un-deletable spyware program that compromised my browser, subverted ZoneAlarm, and wasn't even substantially slowed down by AdAware, SpyBot, About:Buster, HSRemove, Avast Antivirus, or my use of HiJack This to fix, delete, track down, and/or quarantine every suspicious file on my computer, which I did about five nights in sequence, only to have the malware sneak back in on my next reboot. With more than a little help from a friend, I've had to reinstall Windows XP and go through about two years' worth of Windows Updates to get my computer back in shape. If y'all don't know much about spyware or internet security, I recommend reading up on it! I think by this time next week everything will be back to normal, but I may not be posting so much until then).

Thanks again, Dan!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Five Minute Interview With Maggie Nicols

(For some odd reason, this piece, which I wrote prior to the Roscoe Mitchell one, didn't make it onto my blog. So here it is again, in case the blogware doesn't sort itself out).

Got a chance to chat with Maggie Nicols very briefly after her Roundhouse performance tonight. She's the discovery of the festival, for me; a Scottish vocal artist living in Wales, I feel lucky to have managed to see her perform thrice -- once with Phil Minton, Torsten Muller, and Peggy Lee, the second time last night with the Dedication Orchestra, and the third time earlier this afternoon. Each time what she was doing grew on me more and more; she's not quite in the far-out-there range that Paul Dutton, Koichi Makigami, Maja Ratkje, or Phil Minton inhabit, but nor is she a "singer" in the proper sense -- she sings, and sometimes even sings songs, but more often she's concerned with sound, doing nasally overtone stuff alongside drifting layers of colour and sound which have, at times, an almost operatic quality (tho' not exactly). Meredith Monk comes to mind as a possibly similar artist, but that doesn't work so well, either, since Monk is more of a composer, while Maggie more of an improviser (she also tap dances when it fits, being the only percussion instrument in two of the three performances I saw her in). The only recording that reminds me, for sound quality, of what Maggie was doing today was Stockhausen's Singcircle recording, but again, the differences are as strong as the similarities. I asked her what she called herself -- we were sitting on the floor backstage by the ladies' room at the Roundhouse, so as not to be in anyone's way: a sound poet, a vocal improviser, a singer? She made a puzzled sound, and said "Hmmm... good question... I don't know, really! Musician. Just put 'musician.'"

Maggie seemed to win several fans during her Roundhouse concert with Dedication Orchestra cohorts John Edwards, on bass, Paul Rutherford on trombone, and Steve Beresford on piano (he also had an effects box of some sort and some little instruments to play, and at one point, to accompany something delicate that Maggie was doing, took to rubbing the finish on his piano to make a small squeaky sound); he and Maggie seemed to be the mischief-makers of the bunch. At one point, as she was singing what sounded like a traditional jazz ballad with a chorus of "beware my foolish heart," she began to repeat "surely this time it's love" in a way that evoked desperation, weariness, and an awareness of the absurdity of hope which, alas, all of us could identify with; it got the audience laughing, which got me thinking of something I'd read about the role of the audience in Derek Bailey's book, Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music:

Improvisation's responsiveness to its environment puts the performance in
aposition to be completely influenced by the audience. Invoking
professionalism-- the ability to provide at least a standard performance
whatever thecircumstances -- usually has a deleterious effect on improvisation,
causing itto be confised to the more predictable aspects of the idiom or the
vocabulary.Therefore, the effect of the audience's approval or disapproval is
imeediate,and, because its effect is on the creator at the crucial time in the
process ofhis making the music, its influence is not only on the performance but
on theforming and choice of the stuff used (p. 60, Moorland edition).

Bailey goes on to interview several improvisers in different traditions, and notes a surprising disparity of reactions: some improvisers feel that the influence of the audience draws out the best in them and makes their performances significant, unlike what they might do in the privacy of their own home -- which, however interesting, doesn't seem to matter much; others feel that they'd rather not have the distraction of audience responses and expectations, taking them away from entering a space where they can perform their best. This relates quite a bit to how the band's performance was shaped this afternoon, because once people began laughing -- out of delight and identification with Maggie, mind you; an entirely appropriate laughter -- it immediately affected what the other band members did. Beresford, for example, trying to find a unique way to accompany her, having given up rubbing the piano, decided to try dragging his piano stool around on the floor, pushing down on it a little to produce a grinding drag-noise. It fit just perfectly, but it got more laughter, which led to Maggie moving into making a series of squawks and "ohhs" that also had a comic effect, and later going into a comical rant about her having to make "announcements," which she'd had to do all last night for the Dedication Orchestra and was being asked to do again ("just because I'm a bird I'm supposed to do the announcements!" -- as she pantomimed exasperation and indignation). This got yet more laughs and led Rutherford to comment something to the effect of "she's gone off her medication..." It was all delightful, but without the audience response to what she well may have not intended to be funny, initially, the performance might have gone in a different direction entirely.

Backstage, I asked Maggie how she felt about the role of the audience at such junctures. "It crucial, really important," she said. "I mean, there's a fine line. You don't want to play to the audience. If you're self-conscious about what you're doing you can stop trusting yourself and think 'you'd better make it funny.' Sometimes the audience laughs just because they've not heard the music before, as well -- like when Phil performs, they sometimes think he's making 'funny sounds.' It depends how deeply into it you are. Today I sensed there was a potential for humour that I could explore without destroying the song... but sometimes it doesn't happen the way you want."That was about all we had time for. John Edwards, who has also been a stellar performer throughout the festival, told Maggie that they had to catch a bus, and she thanked me for my enthusiasm (she used the adjective "lovely") and we parted, perhaps to chat later. She'll perform later tonight with the Dedication Orchestra yet again, opening for Ladysmith Black Mambazo at the Centre. I suspect she's really enjoying her time here in Vancouver...

(Post-script: Ralph tells me that she had her audience doing random tones and bird cries at her workshop. Most folks find Ralph a bit eccentric, so I guess it's a form of high praise that he commented on Maggie, at last night's Roscoe Mitchell show, "that lady's on Venus." I've e-mailed Maggie the rest of my questions, so perhaps we'll follow this up at a later date).

Final Evening of the Jazz Fest: Roscoe Mitchell at the Culch

The evening, at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre, began with a short presentation -- the computer equivalent of a slide show -- in memory of Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors, and another AACM member, Ameen Muhammad, whose work I confess to not knowing; all were members of the Chicago Association for the Advancement of Creative Music, and two were members of that organization's most famous progeny, the Art Ensemble of Chicago (they gained the "of Chicago" during their tenure in Paris in the late 1960's). The AACM celebrated their fortieth birthday in May of this year; Roscoe Mitchell, the main act at the Culch last night, has been with them for the duration, being, along with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams (not in attendance) one of their founding members; Mwata Bowden has been with them for 30 years. In a way, I've been 'with' them for almost ten years, myself. It was a big deal, seeing last night's show.

Back in my acidhead days, which corresponded to my initial explorations of jazz (starting with free jazz, thanks to a friend of a friend -- hi, Ian -- who gave me his record collection, including Ornette Coleman's groundbreaker and some Albert Ayler) the musicians associated with the AACM were one of my first passions. I bought, off Ty at the Flea Market -- remember Ty? He's with Lester and Ameen and Malachi now -- a collection of their music, for a mere $15 an LP, that he'd acquired from a former jazz promoter (the famous "Mary Lou" collection) who'd been on the scene throughout the 1960's. He'd underpriced them, not realizing just how in demand, among some people, this sort of music was: I had original BYGs of AECO's Reese and the Smooth Ones, Message to Our Folks, and A Jackson In Your House; I had original Paris pressings of Certain Blacks, People in Sorrow, and Phase One, plus one of those related discs -- was it on Pathe? Nessa? I forget -- featuring Fontella Bass. None of these were available on CD at the time, but all are now; owning them felt like a big deal, then. On subsequent visits, and for much higher prices, I bought off him almost anything to do with the AACM. Was it on Delmark? I bought it. Did Joseph Jarman appear on one track? I bought it. Was it on BYG or recorded by American musicians in Paris in the late 1960's? I bought it. I got solo albums by all the founding AECO members, Maurice McIntyre's Humility in the Light of Creator, the first albums by Anthony Braxton and Muhal Richard Abrams (I still need to replace Levels and Degrees of Light on CD -- heads out there take note, that one's a must have). I also bought rare Ornette Coleman's and Albert Aylers off him, but AACM music, with it's tripped-out detailed textures and "little instruments" (bells, bike horns, rubber ducks, and percussion instruments of every manner) uniquely suited the psychedelicized state I was living in back then (I was dropping acid every couple of days). A broke, confused university drop-out, as well as a druggie, I had very little money (most of which I either cadged off my parents or got off welfare, which I was on for periods during those years); I actually got a job (at a Shell gas station/convenience store -- my low point in work history and the job I started smoking cigarettes at, beginning an 8 year habit that I'm very glad to have put behind me) for the express purpose of being able to afford more of Ty's records. I read whatever I could (not much was around, back then -- mostly I read the liner notes to the records), wrote frenzied AACM-related histories for friends and tried to capture the essential differences between the New York and Chicago free jazz scenes; I recorded tape after tape for anyone who'd listen, most of which were just too damn out-there for the people I thrust them on. As with any enthusiasm, I needed someone I could share it with, and a painter friend of mine and fellow would-be athlete of perception really got the brunt of it; he still has boxes of this stuff he hasn't listened to -- I made him around 100 tapes in a short few months...

Ah, tapes. Ah, LPs. Remember these artifacts of the past, how they felt in your hands? Remember the equipment? Ahh, nostalgia.

Anyhow, it was pretty damn cool to see one of the founding AACM guys play last night. Mwata Bowden was fun, too. He's been associated with the High School Jazz Intensive that Coastal Jazz has put together, coming to town early to spend a brief, intense week working for three hours a day with young BC musicians, whom he then conducts at the Roundhouse. The kids have gotten very enthusiastic responses, both times they've done this; Mwata, slim, stylish, well-dressed (in an African manner I cannot describe, with a brimless cloth cap and a loose shirt that seems more like a robe) has explained their project, introduced them (and us, at a workshop last year) to different forms of graphic notation, and guided them in going "out there" musically, which they've done with great conviction and talent. The song he'd chosen as the theme of the project, he explained this Sunday, was a Jimmy Heath tune called "Without You, No Me;" without him, the project wouldn't have happened; without them, the project wouldn't have happened; without us, the project wouldn't have happened; without Coastal Jazz and its sponsors, the project wouldn't have happened (let's all raise a glass of Henkel Trocken to the TD Canada Trust, shall we? And smoke a du Maurier for old time's sake -- no, wait, get that stuff away from me). "Without You, No Me;" it was the final number on Sunday afternoon, and received an enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience.

It was odd to pair Mwata Bowden with Paul Plimley, for the opening act. While Bowden projects grace, dignity, and control, and presents himself as being very self-consciously of African ancestry, Paul Plimley is one of the whitest lookin' damn jazz musicians you could ever hope to see. I hesitate to attach adjectives to his manner -- I don't wanna be mean -- but if Christopher Guest were to make a film about jazz musicans, Michael McKean would have to play Plimley. I sat making notes of ways I could try to convey the odd quality of Paul Plimley's performances without being hurtful -- he's a great musician, a great improviser, a true enthusiast, and a nice guy -- all of which I've said to his face, so I don't want to belabour the abuse over hear behind his back; but he looks... I dunno. Like a golfer. Like a math teacher. Like someone who'd be instantly hired for a kids TV show. Like someone who could very possibly have the words "gosh" and "swell" in his vocabulary. To see him lost in rapture as he plays like a maniac, doing things alternately lyric and tuneful and noisy and chaotic, all with an expression on his face you'd imagine on your Dad's face, if he were a free jazz musician, is bizarre; men this white are simply not supposed to be jazz musicians. But Plimley is, and he's an extremely talented one. And so, we had a study in contrasts, between the extroverted, unself-conscious, and whiter-than-white Plimley, and Bowden, who seemed more than a bit overwhelmed by playing alongside him; during a couple of long stretches, he actually seemed quite unable to find a way "in," stood listening to Plimley play for long periods, picking up one instrument, then another, trying out a few notes, and finally finding his way; I felt a little tense, a little worried, wondered if Bowden was experiencing that tense moment of flop sweat and unself-confidence that all of us who've spoken or performed in public know. He finally made it, commenting afterwards that it was difficult to play with a "crazy guy;" Plimley then took the microphone and said various nice things about Bowden, whom he'd met when playing in Chicago 15 years ago, and hadn't seen again til that day. After that, the two men found a place they could inhabit together; the pressuring aura of expected "professionalism" disappated a little and we got the sense of something far more intimate, of two very different men who didn't know each other well but shared a common passion, making music together. And it was great music to hear, with instrumental experimentation one associates with the AACM -- lots of small percussion instruments, Mwata switching from clarinet to a wooden flute to a didjeridu. Plimley seems to get better every time I hear him play, too; a few years ago, when I last saw him, he seemed to "bang" a lot, to mash several keys at once, but revealed dizzying fingerwork last night.

Roscoe Mitchell took the stage next. I've got only a short time to write before I have to be at work, so let me say that Mitchell's performance was extremely intense; that much of the night was spent in full-on onslaught mode, with each player trying to purge every demon, express every emotion, achieve catharsis and unity through sheer propulsive force of their breathless improvisations, leaving the audience as well as the players pretty much spent; nothing was held back, and everything delivered, with a force that overwhelmed you and left many marks, as it blew through your brain and out the back of your skull... Fellow jazz enthusiast and eccentric Ralph, who was in the audience, liked it best (and I confess that I did too, tho' I didn't admit this at the time) when, for the encore, the bassist traded his stand-up bass for an electric and the band got funky; but I also really liked hearing pure free jazz. It's actually a bit rare to hear these days, I realized. Most "jazz" doesn't get this free, and a lot of purely improvised music tends to be quieter, now, with people intensely listening to each other and producing minimal soundscapes, rather than, in the manner of Coltrane and Ayler and old Ornette, trying to vomit up demons and cleanse their spirits through their horns; I don't think I've heard a performance quite this intense or noisy from a jazz musician since Charles Gayle was last here. It wasn't entirley what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it considerably -- a cathartic night, though the back of my head still feels a bit raw. I'd go into detail about what each player did -- the trumpet player playing two horns at once, the Cecil-Taylor-esque mania of the pianist, the skill of the bassist, the amazingly handsome drummer, and the pleasing way Roscoe Mitchell stepped back, sat down and just listened, head nodding, to his quintet play --

but alas, the jazz festival is over. It's Monday morning. It's DAYJOB TIME. Time to bathe, put on a tie, and figure out if I have enough money left after buying CDs at the festival to afford a chai on the way to work.

Thanks again, Coastal Jazz.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Reviewing the 20th Vancouver International Jazz Festival

Wow, what a day. The UK Septet, drawn from the Dedication Orchestra (note: link features MP3s) and featuring their leader, Louis Moholo, was the first thing I saw at the Roundhouse -- a wonderful warmup for a day ending with a Dedication Orchestra performance... Delightful that Maggie Nicols and other cohorts from the Dedication Orchestra will be performing tomorrow at the Roundhouse for free, too! If anyone out there didn't see the Dedication Orchestra tonight (and isn't going to see Roscoe Mitchell, as I am) I urge you to see them open for Ladysmith Black Mambazo tomorrow -- it should be an astonishing show. Phil Minton performs with them, as well -- he even sings, in a regular, singing-kinda way, with a surprisingly deep voice -- almost Paul Robeson-y in that regard. Anyhow, Dedication Orchestra make truly joyful music that evokes South African townships (tho' most of the band seem to be English). There's so much good to say about them -- how joyful and life-affirming their music is, tho' it contains just a pinch of grief and melancholy too, such that the joy is like the rapture one feels after a night of crying, say -- that I won't even try to sell their music to you. If you need a reason to go, go to see the third vocalist, David Serame's, face, which is as open and friendly a face as I think I've seen. It's a truly beautiful face -- he could get a job as a guru, if he wanted to.

Actually, my second event of the day was Dedication-related, too --Julian Arguelles, playing with Bernie Arai and Andre Lachance (two of a small, but growing, number of local jazz musicians whose playing I actually enjoy). Arguelles did very tuneful, blues-related extended pieces, that opened up in a way that reminded me of some of what I've heard on ECM, without ever losing the sense that there was a tune somewhere continuing, over, between, or at least proximately near what Arguelles was playing. I think, of the musicians I've seen (unless Phil Minton and Maggie Nicols count) I enjoyed his playing most of the people I've seen this festival.

What else did I see today? In keeping with my general desire not to piss off anyone local, I won't mention the stuff I didn't enjoy... But actually, well, that leaves me with nothing else to write about.

Tomorrow at the Roundhouse, I'll be seeing AACM-man Mwata Bowden, who has been working with a local high school band, as he did, most productively, last year -- the kids were excellent, so set aside any misgivings, if you're interested; it'll be a nice peak at Bowden in the context of leader, for those of us who'll be seeing him open for Mitchell at the Culch in the evening. Then I'll take a chance on L'Orkestra des Pas Perdus, mostly because I assume they're a big band, and this year's festival seems particularly ripe with them (anyone do the Italian Instabile Orchestra the other day?) . Then it's Maggie Nicols with Paul Rutherford, Steve Beresford, and John Edwards. After that, I think I'll go home for a rest, maybe cook some curry, before heading out to see Roscoe Mitchell... I missed his workshop this afternoon, but a friend of a friend named Ralph tells me that Mitchell seemed intensely serious... somehow that's what I'd expected.

My thanks and salutations to the whole damn jazz festival and to Coastal Jazz and Blues for putting it on.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Subhumans at the Brickyard, Phil Minton at Ironworks

Damn, the Brickyard was hot tonight. In the sweating, claustrophobic sense of the term. The regrouped Subhumans -- Brian Goble, Gerry Hannah, Mike Graham, and new drummer, DOA alumnus Jon Card -- played a shortish but enthusiastic (and enthusiastically received) set, opening with "Oh Canaduh," ending with "Fuck You," and covering most of the high points of their career in between, with a few new songs for good measure (the best of which was called "I Got Religion"). "Firing Squad," "Urban Guerillas," "Slave to my Dick" -- almost every song I wanted to hear, with the exception of "Behind the Smile," the lyrics of which I've always singularly appreciated... I was almost tempted to venture into the pit for "Inquisition Day," but I restrained myself. I'm never a very devoted mosher -- too old, too outa shape, and not really able to completely lose myself in such brute physicality for more than a few minutes at a time -- and it was too damn hot to even consider it this evening. Mostly I had fun trying to spot familiar faces -- Dale from Noize and formerly Track, Grant from RPM, Track, the Reverberators, and now I think a band called either the Ins or the Outs (I forget), Nardwuar (am I spelling that right) the Human Serviette, and, most surprisingly, painter Attila Richard Lukacs. (His presence gave me a new way to look at the shirtless sweaty muscular male torsos in the mosh pit -- I don't think I'd've seen them in quite the same way otherwise).

Earlier in the evening, since the Subhumans didn't go on stage until after 12, I attended the first set of the 11 PM Ironworks show: locals Peggy Lee (still playing better'n I've ever heard her play before), and Torsten Muller (who I've never had a complaint with, tho' I was kinda disappointed by the afternoon Western Front show he did with Lol Coxhill today) were joined by vocal improvisers Maggie Nicols and Phil Minton. It was Phil I went for. It was fascinating to watch. Having seen Canadian avant-vox poet-musician Paul Dutton perform on a couple of occasions, it was really interesting to compare the difference in their approaches. While Dutton is focused, in control, a sound poet in command of his rather unusual medium, Minton approaches things more as a jazz improviser, shaking, sputtering, and spazzing, entering the music, seeking a sort of trance in it, and following the flow of things in exactly the way a skilled improviser might play a saxophone. Both are interesting to watch, and damned interesting to hear, but something in Minton's rapturous entry into the music was oddly participatory -- you felt like if you could just take whatever drug he was on, so to speak, you might start doing the same thing with your mouth, too. (With Dutton, there's no question of this that enters your mind: you watch, fascinated, but you're more aware that he has you in his power, is guiding you, directing you, that you're following a performance and that there's a human being up there named Paul Dutton who is making the sounds you're hearing; and that you could not do what he was doing without years of practice. It's controlled in the best sense of the word... With Minton, "control" is the last word that comes to mind, and his very identity seems to melt a bit into his performance). A person unsure what to make of such a strange form of music could take their cues just by watching Minton's body, I suspect.... Maggie Nicols, meanwhile -- from Scotland -- seemed an immediately and deeply likeable woman, tho' not as extroverted in her performance as her male vocal counterpart; she tapped her feet sometimes, danced a bit, and offered a sometimes droning, sometimes singing, sometimes trilling and burbling and chirping female voice to the far left of the sound spectrum, perfectly balancing out the sound of Peggy Lee's cello on the far right. She could have been performing on a Meredith Monk record, at times -- her style involved more singing, and less sound, than Minton's. I liked her "Make Capitalism History" t-shirt, too. I probably could have stayed for their whole set, so slow were they at getting the Subhumans onstage at the Brickyard; their performance was an exquisite bit of improvised exploration. As usual with soundscape-type music, I tried at various points to close my eyes and focus on the sound, but for once, the performers were just too interesting to not watch them.

I sure am glad that I find myself enjoying Peggy Lee again. I was impressed with her when I first saw her perform in the early '90's, but on my return from Japan in 2002, was most disappointed when I saw her open for Erik Friedlander at the Culch; she seemed tentative, reluctant to really play her instrument, perhaps out of fear of seeming weaker than Friedlander, which she managed to do anyhow. Maybe it was just in my head but I wasn't impressed, and have been reluctant since to see her again; I'm delighted to find myself enjoying her again, and two nights in a row, no less... I don't think it's just in my ears, either; she seems to have grown considerably as a performer, in confidence and perhaps in technique. Cheers, Peggy!

...and now I must lay my sweaty flesh to rest for the evenin', to prepare for yet more jazz tomorrow. Again, I highly recommend the Dedication Orchestra at the Culch at 8 PM...

Friday, July 01, 2005

Richard Linklater's adaptation of A Scanner Darkly

Just discovered a preview for Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly, his adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel about drugs and disintegration. In it, an undercover narcotics agent with neural damage, due to the drugs he takes as part of his cover, is assigned to spy and report on his drug-dealing alter ego, which he does -- not realizing, because of said damage that he and his alter-ego are the same person. Dick spoke of this device as a way of expressing his ambivalence about drug culture -- a way of exploring two sides of himself. There's a good deal more to the story than that, but I'll leave the rest unmentioned. It's my favourite of Dick's novels -- the richest, most moving, most perfect of those that I've read, and it captures the drug melieu perfectly. The movie, alas, is not due out until next March...

Anyone looking for a good read is also directed to the recent Dick bio, I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick, by Emmanuel Carrere. I'm no expert on Dick, and can't really speak for the accuracy or insightfulness of the book, but I greatly enjoyed reading it, and felt like I understood Dick better for it.

Fantasies of Jandek's Future

Dig this, folks, this is hilarious... (I'm stoned alone, listening to "Message to the Clerk" on Canada Day eve): I have the most fun darn fantasy prediction for the future of music: Jandek becomes a superstar. I mean, he's actually touring, now; perhaps he'll catch on? In the same way that punk, allegedly elitist and inaccessible, became just another commodity -- not what those of us who were affiliated with it expected -- perhaps now Jandek too can be transformed into fodder for the masses? He wins a Grammy, mebbe gets an acting role, sorta an obscure side-character like Dylan's Alias in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Jandek t-shirts will replace Kurt Cobain t-shirts (his corpse has been pretty much picked clean by now, anyways). Given how empty the cult of celebrity is lately, given how hungry people are to express themselves via it, and how eager the market is to exploit everything that can be commodified, it might just happen: a savvy music industry type will approach Jandek with a big label deal and sink a bunch of money into promoting him as the next "thing," and the alienated youth of today will be the Jandek-lovin' spenders of the future. Hell, if I were David Geffen...

It's food for thought, Mobsters!

I've got to see Jandek on Corwood sometime soon. I should mail this to Seth Tisue, too... Hm.

Wow, I must be stoned, I'm really getting off on the musicianship on this disc... It actually kinda cooks! Damn, here's "Give it the Name" -- it must have been years since I've heard this. Christ, I'd listen to this over Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, or damn near any superstar bluesman of the past century.

I'd listen to Blind Gary Davis, Charley Patton, or Mississippi John Hurt first on most nights lately, too. I was going to take this off and put on the Harry Smith anthology... but then I got writing... it's pretty good. I could play Loren Mazzacaine Conners next and smoke some more... Hm.

Harry Smith still seems a bit daunting at the moment. It's the occultist stuff... My own handle on esoterica is pretty flimsy, but I'm not... that... interested. A little, maybe. I've been around a bit too much weirdness in my day.

What was I going to do before I got writing, anyhow?