Friday, September 29, 2006

Documentaries at the VIFF

Baku oil field


It’s been a strange few years since September 11th. Things are reminding me more and more of the gloom and doom days of the 1980s, when everyone was bracing themselves for nuclear disaster (fans of The Day After and Threads should definitely check out Peter Watkins’ The War Game, by the way, just released on DVD). End of the world scenarios seem to be regaining their currency, from popular films like The Day after Tomorrow to Cormac McCarthy’s excellent but grim new novel, The Road. (It would be instructive to compare this dark, sad, painful book with the secret-fantasy elements of the post-apocalyptic fiction of yore, which seemed mostly to focus on romantic heroes or, at best, antiheroes battling giant cockroaches and the like, imagining a post-nuclear holocaust world as being something akin to the Old West). Even moreso than in the realm of fiction, lately, documentary after documentary seems to end on chilling notes: “things are more fucked up than anyone realizes and something needs to be done, but no one knows what or how.” The calmest chicken little out there is indisputably Al Gore, but this particular genre of documentary (made up of equal parts talking head and quaint archival footage) seems to thrive on an eerily sedate quality; someone somewhere has figured out that there is nothing quite so terrifying as a recipe for disaster stated in cool and rational terms. Often there’s a fair bit of information provided alongside the reasons to be afraid – and fear is a great motivator towards becoming informed – but there’s also something of the horror movie thrill to it: these films are only really satisfying if they convince you that the world may end tomorrow.

Tho’ that may seem a cynical thing to say, I am a sucker for this particular genre of documentary. Can’t say why, exactly. Perhaps it vindicates my sense of unreality at how insane the current world is, and reassures me that things are not, in fact, all right? (That it’s NOT JUST ME who has a problem?). I’ll be seeing a lot of documentaries at the VIFF, but especially anything that seems singularly doom-and-gloom. Yesterday’s top contender for that spot was Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash. Cut from the template of films like The Corporation and The Future of Food, it delivers no formal surprises, but is packed with interesting and insightful expert commentary. It traces the extent to which western economies – and increasingly the rest of the world – are based on the consumption of fossil fuels, and that it is conceivable that we are now experiencing what is known as peak oil. The film follows the theories of M. King Hubbert, who, we are told, was once considered a laughingstock in predicting that we would run out of oil at some point in the foreseeable future. Completely in keeping with Hubbert’s predictions, the film shows how oilfields once thought inexhaustible, in the USA and in Baku (formerly part of the USSR, now part of Azerbaijan) are depleted. There have been no major new fields discovered in the last 30 years, and the figures for the amount of oil that is claimed to exist in countries like Saudi Arabia may well be inflated. One of the commentators sited says that he thinks it very unlikely that our grandchildren will be able to afford to fly in an airplane, and there is much worry as to what a post-oil economy will look like; it certainly won’t support the world’s grotesquely exaggerated population in anythin’ like the style to which we are accustomed. The film is not entirely optimistic about the alternative energy sources it discusses, but forcefully outlines the need to explore them. There aren’t many surprises here, but it feels good to have some background under one’s belt; these sorts of documentaries end up feeling like Coles’ Notes on the state of the planet. More on the concept of peak oil can be read here.



Less grim, but more formally exciting, is a striking document of the production of food in the age of agribusiness: Our Daily Bread -- see also here -- filmed in Europe, neither moralizes nor even overtly comments, but depicts – without music, without even much in the way of spoken language – various facets of food production today. It is often very strange, reminding me of the scene in Wim Wenders’ Tokyo-Ga where we see plastic food being factory produced and painted for display in restaurant windows – except the food being produced here is real food, of many different varieties. It could just as well be car parts. Dead hogs, hung by their hind legs on a conveyer of sorts, are slit open and gutted entirely by robotics, with a woman in a blue plastic smock shearing off their hooves at the end of the line; later, salmon get much the same treatment. Piglets are mechanically herded in so impersonal (?) a way as to suggest THX 1138. Men in lab coats with computers oversee through a window the harvesting of bull semen. Salt miners, after an apparently endless descent in an industrial elevator, sit aboard their heavy equipment and eat sandwiches on their break; they could be mining for coal, tho’ they aren’t as dirty. Vegetables and fruits are grown and harvested mechanically with a minimum of human participation. Apples are sorted in vast pools and mechanically placed into foam trays for display, with a woman in a facemask facing them red-end-up. In one scene, a tree-shaking machine causes unnamed fruit in an orchard to fall, which is then scooped up by a specially designed fruitsucking bulldozer of sorts. It all makes for a very odd experience; something as intimate as food should never be grown, harvested, or prepared in so alienated a way, but at the same time, one dazzles at the antlike efficiency of it all. It’s stuff we so seldom see, are so in denial about, that really observing how our food gets to us leaves you in a state of wonder and shock: this is what you always imagined was going on behind the scenes, but never saw. The film requires – and amply rewards – effort on the part of the viewer; anyone who really got excited about James Benning’s 13 Lakes last year (or can’t wait for Into Great Silence, later in the festival) is highly advised to check this one out.



More inspiring – it moved me to quiet tears at times, in fact – is Encounter Point, a film about Israelis and Palestinians working together for peace. I have little to say about it. I have personal experience of just how deep prejudices run in regard this conflict – it appears that a friendship I value has ended because I dared to criticize Israel’s recent invasion of Lebanon – so it is very touching indeed to see Israelis and Arabs who have both lost family (and who both previously considered the other an inhumane enemy incapable of seriously discussing peace) coming together and exploring non-violent ways of ending their ongoing conflict. It’s a great experience and I highly recommend it.

There are other films I’ve seen, either at media screenings or yesterday, that I have less commentary to offer on, tho’ that doesn’t mean they’re bad films. The Jonestown documentary is exactly what you’d expect it to be – featuring interviews with various People’s Temple members and survivors. The story is told almost entirely through their testimony, or the testimony of those who were present in Guyana in 1978 on the Day They Drank the Kool Aid; I’m not sure why the filmmakers felt the need to limit themselves this way – a bit of outsider analysis by those familiar with charismatic religions, cult leaders, paranoia, and the like might have been interesting and useful – but the film is powerful and scary as it is, so I suppose it will suffice... Alanis Obomsawin’s Waban-Aki: People from Where the Sun Rises deals with issues of preserving Native culture – specifically that of the Abenaki community of Odanak, in eastern Canada. The film is most interesting in detailing Abenaki women’s resistance to the effects of the Indian Act, which, rooted in a policy of forced assimilation, legislates many women and their children into non-status positions. The stories told of the effects this has had and of the fight to undo the damages are worth hearing recounted. I must admit, tho’, that I find it difficult to get excited or inspired – as the filmmakers appear to be -- about the cultural significance of the fact that some Abenaki still make birchbark canoes and weave baskets. In the age of mass production and globalized sweatshop labour, if cultural survival and cultural identity is contingent on Arts and Crafts, it seems a far more grim prognosis than the filmmakers intend; it fails to inspire, in any case. There is something very gentle about Obomsawin’s film, though, that may please some viewers; it tries to find cause for hope for the endurance, against great odds, of one small community with a long history and its own traditions. Perhaps it’s my fault for not finding the film grim enough; I'm a bit of a cynic, after all, and this IS Doom and Gloom week.

Anyhow, folks, that’s IT for me for film festival writing; I’m actually missing films to write, and that Just Doesn’t Make Sense at All. I'll check in with next month's Discorder, I figure, with a "best of the fest" thing. Maybe; dunno. In any case, I have other writing projects to work on, so... see y’all! Oh: if you are bereft of a program guide, complete listings of all films and dates can be found here -- I really recommend Our Daily Bread, in particular; it's the most memorable and unique of the 15 or so films I've seen in the run up to the fest, and the one, so far, that is by no means to be missed.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Alienated in Toronto, AKA: What I did on my Summer Vacation



Photo of Allan and Jillo in the Toronto subway by Mark Forest

My ears are still a little tender from the descent into Vancouver yesterday. I went straight from the airport to the Okee Wonton house on Granville for wonton soup and the number 2 special, my regular. (Those who don’t know the Okee Wonton House: it’s the best cheap Chinese restaurant in Vancouver. The d├ęcor and location leave a lot to be desired – it’s in the heart of the porn strip approaching the bridge and the colours are faded and bleak, making it look a bit run down, a bit dirty – but the food is terrific). I’d missed Vancouver, was glad to be back; whatever the greater cultural opportunities that Toronto affords, however much I liked the people I met there, Toronto seemed flat and grey and faded – sort of like the Okee, except the food wasn’t as good.

Things began with a phenomenal glitch. Airport security in Toronto notified us that there were problems with the security check out of Vancouver and that it was necessary to screen us all again before we were allowed to go into the city or catch connecting flights. I only had a couple of hours before the Jandek show started and was a little anxious, not knowing how long it would take to make it downtown. I milled around chatting with other passengers about what the security concern might have been, but I'm since convinced that they were just checking up on Vancouver to see if security here had done a decent job; they searched everyone’s luggage and confiscated anything that had been missed. The fellow behind me in line to get his bag searched joked, “just wait til you see the things that you forgot you have in there!” Passengers queued up and meekly submitted to the harsh scrutiny of the men (and a few women) in uniform, who removed them of the possessions that they shouldn’t have had with them in the first place. Gels and liquids, primarily – one woman appeared to lose some expensive makeup – but also sharp objects. A photographer just ahead of me was made to account for a small screwdriver he had packed with his camera kit, the security guard holding it up as an accusation as he stammered his innocent intent. The feisty fellow behind me, as I was being patted down, said to one of the harangued-looking security guards, “Does this mean that if Air Canada hasn’t done its job and I was on the plane with dangerous objects, I can sue them for having put me in danger?” He was regarded with a humourless stare. This guy seemed a bit of a shit disturber; he’d rolled his eyes at the wait, and indeed at the very concept of having to submit to a security check on disembarking from a domestic flight. “What are they doing, clearing us for the city of Toronto?”

The woman to actually go through my carryon was brown and small and pleasant. She struck no authoritarian postures, for which I was most grateful – the bullying manner of some of these folks can get under my skin. I was busy apologizing in advance for a tiny tube of Liquid Paper I’d packed unwittingly when she discovered the thing that I had REALLY forgotten was in there: a jackknife with a three inch blade, bought for a camping trip last year and almost never used. I imagined myself, as she flipped open the blade, being stripped naked in a tiled room and forced to bend and spread for someone with a flashlight. “Oh my God, I completely forgot that was in there!” I think I must have started sweating on the spot. She told me it was all right, that it was Vancouver’s fault for not having found it, then went off to see her supervisors. Men. They gave me dirty looks, but when they found out I was just going to Toronto, they cleared me, without even taking my name (tho’ there was discussion of it).

They kept the knife, though. I didn’t ask for it back.

Having narrowly averted a cavity search, I was, within the hour, sitting at the Centre of Gravity – a very cool space where vaudeville was once performed and, I gather, circus acts sometimes rehearse even now. I passed around a few copies of the Nerve Magazine with my Jandek article in it to interested patrons near me (promoter Gary Topp gave a copy on to the Man Himself) and got ready for the show to start. The talk – which I heard more than once – was that Jandek had flown in the previous Tuesday and had written all the lyrics for the show since; during the performance, I could see his notebook, with blocks of prose in that distinctive Corwood handwriting, broken up where the music was to stop. The man himself was emaciated – there is apparently discussion that he may be ill on the Jandek mailing list – but gave a surprisingly focused performance, with the whole evening being themed around meditations on identity; it had a very Samuel Beckett feeling to it, which author Danen Jobe also remarked on the next night at his reading, to my delight (Jobe says that some of Jandek’s other recent releases are much the same, including Glasgow Monday and the Newcastle show). Live, the Man from Corwood appears to be developing an interest in producing cohesive, hour-plus works of art that cannot be easily broken up into “songs," however often the players stop during a performance. Unfortunately, I napped a bit during the first half-hour, recovering from my flight, and it took me a bit of time to get used to the somewhat simple and surprisingly pretty music that Jandek made on the Korg synths (the bottom tier of which sounded like it was used for New Age music, maybe Ambient 12: Music for Corwood Industries, while the top sounded rather like a church organ) – but by the end of the night, the swirling sounds had captured me – I was particularly impressed with the rhythm section of Rob Clutton and Nick Fraser. The blue gels contributed to producing a spacy, undersea synaesthetic trance.

It was Jandek’s lyrics that really caught my attention, though. At one point he cried “Dissolve your identity! Destroy yourself and live,” and it seemed to riff in fascinating ways off the whole mystery of who Jandek IS. Continued lyrical meditations on the I-he-you of Jandek’s interior realm made it clear that the focus was meant to be a bit broader than that, though. To adopt Corwood's mode of speaking, “he” is a constant disappointment, and “I” spend all “my” time trying to bring him under control, to make "him" obey "my" vision of who "I" am – celebrating those odd moments when "I" win and wondering why having to struggle is so necessary. (“Why can’t I just kill him?” Jandek says at one point; Jobe would make the point the next night that to see all this as being depressing and suicidal misses the point, which is far more philosophical and not without humour. Gary Topp’s tale of Jandek sneaking up on him while seeming to call him on his cell phone would confirm that the man from Corwood – whom both Topp and Jobe have dealt with at length – is actually quite playful, while also being a “gentleman,” a word both Topp and Jobe used). The struggle between "I" and "he" sometimes tilted the other way, though; while at the end of one song, "I" am victorious and “he” is destroyed, bent to “my” will, at the end of a subsequent number, “I” decided that “he” is too strong and must just be assented to, that true freedom lies in doing what “he” wants... A bit of Freudian language becomes inevitable in understanding things; Jandek’s "I" (the “perfection of thought,” as Corwood put it) is the superego, which, as Slavoj Zizek points out in The Perverts Guide to Cinema, playing Thursday at the VIFF, is both authoritarian and capricious – our inner voice, our guide, the voice which berates us and insults us as well as telling us what is right and wrong). "He," meanwhile, is the ego, the stubborn fact of our emotional drives and programs. “You,” under this reading, seemed to vascillate between being the loved one, the Other, and God... (At one point "he" runs back to "me" away from "you;" at another point, "I" and "you" encounter each other directly, without "his" interference, and there is rapture). Through all these heavy thoughts, Jandek’s other eye wanders about and captures particular details of setting – the glass in the French doors, the trees on the street where the introspector walks -- details which don't exactly ground the work in the concrete but at least tether it to the planet. Though a few people in the packed venue (250 people capacity, maybe) snuck out before the end, most of us stayed and were amply rewarded. The Man from Corwood did not so much as glance at the audience, not once, even when we were applauding at the end.

After the show, I trekked down the street, on the advice of a fellow gig attendee, to Toronto’s little India. Everything seemed flat, old, and dirty – three adjectives that seem to apply to almost every urban space in Toronto, save the skyscrapers and such -- and the ethnic mix was noticeably different off the bat; their little India is huge compared to ours, and if the number of Halal restaurants offering beef on the menu is any indication, the dominant religion is Islam, not Hinduism or Sikhisim or such. I ended up having butter chicken at the Lahore King Kabab Halal Restaurant at 1386 Gerrard. It was nothin’ special but it was food! Everyone else in the place was from India. Everyone else on the street was from India. No one seemed to be annoyed by my pestering questions (directions, can I use the phone here, etc) and by the end of the evening, after figuring out the rudiments of the subway and bus system, I was crashed safely in the spare room of Jillo of the Nomeanswhatever discussion forum. Jill and Mark proved excellent, gracious hosts and gave me a base from which to come and go, for which I am most grateful! (Jillo, named for her youthful enthusiasm for Jello Biafra, also hooked me up with rides for the Waterloo and Hamilton Nomeansno shows, introduced me to Ali G’s character Borat, and let me use her computer... Tho’ I wasn’t impressed with the urban environment, I ended up – largely because of Jill and Mark and Jill’s friends -- getting the impression that Torontonians as a rule are unpretentious, down-to-earth, and likable people, lacking any of the snooty cliquishness of Vancouverites and nowhere near as socially challenged. Things seem simpler there, less cluttered with crazy bullshit and affectations; in a city of so many people, it couldn't be any other way.

Monday AM, before Jill or Mark awoke, I was off on my next adventure, catching a subway into town and hopping one of the odd little trolleycars, the mechanical jerkiness of which reminds me for all the world of bumper cars at the PNE. It tooled up Spadina towards Queen and I discovered myself in the midst of Chinatown. I immediately hopped off to see if I could find a Chinese bootleg DVD retailer, to see if any of the Japanese titles available differed markedly from the ones I can find locally. Some offered DVDs at very low prices – 12 for $20 was the best rate I found, tho’ they had the fewest interesting films. I ended up buying 15 films and taking home, I think, 6. Junk, Kichiku Dai Enkai, and Ley Lines were all PAL formatted, useless to me with my primitive technology; the Kurosawa’s I bought had terrible subtitles; and tho’ I was fascinated by Seijun Suzuki’s Pistol Opera, the last ten minutes were missing! Such is life for the buyers of bootlegs -- I get used to writing off every third purchase. Keepers included Miike’s City of Lost Souls and Dead or Alive: Final; Suzuki’s Princess Raccoon; Howl’s Moving Castle; Sonatine; and a Hanzo the Razor instalment, The Snare). I also found a pretty good Jamaican restaurant, the Ackee Tree, on Spadina near Queen (note: the goat roti, tasty as it may be, comes with big chunks of bone in it). It wasn’t a very eventful day – I meditated at the Allan Gardens for awhile, got the feel of the place, and found out the location and hours for a couple of places I intended to come back to. Ugly urban scape or not, there was lots that I wanted to do in the city before it was time to see Nomeansno.

The highlight of Monday night was hearing Mr. Jobe, of Arkansas, read to us from his fictive biography of Jandek; taking particular issue with Irwin Chusid's somewhat brainlessly hyperbolic claim that Jandek has no antecedents, Jobe places the man from Corwood in the tradition of great bluesmen of yore, giving him a suitable backstory which Corwood rather indirectly contributed to by correspondence, occasionally nudging the author (away from claiming the influence of one blind blues musician towards another, for instance -- Blind Willie Johnson apparently plays a role in Jandek's musical past). Alas, copies of the book were still in Glasgow, waiting to be shipped; they can be had online here. It was also fun looking about the bookstore, Circus Books, also on Gerrard, closer to Cabbagetown; there were some cool Ralph Steadman's that I had yet to encounter and I bought a copy of Ingmar Bergman's Images, which I had been looking for for awhile. The owner, who I chatted with, tells me that he's only been open for 9 months, so he couldn't really say if there's been a downturn in the used book business in To. in recent years (there certainly has been in Vancouver). He directed me to a good chicken shawarma dinner, tho'.

The next couple of days revolved around the CBC and the National Film Board. The CBC I wanted to visit to see if I could access their archives and view "In On the Action," a March 2002 Fifth Estate episode dealing with the Squamish Five (AKA Direct Action AKA the Vancouver Five -- I'm habituated to thinking of them by the first name anyone here know of them by. By the way, that last link is to a misleading and poorly-researched little article -- the author spells names wrong and omits various details of the program that don't fit the slant of his story). Relevant to a Subhumans article I'm doing, as background on Gerry Hannah, it featured interviews with Five member Ann Hansen and Terry Chikowski (the security guard most badly injured at the Litton plant). While trying to figure out if the CBC could help me -- which, thanks to archivist Roy Harris, they eventually did -- I spent a fair bit of time up the street, poking about the viewing stations at the NFB, watching chunks of Through a Blue Lens, Shipbreakers, some early Ryan Larkin works, and various other NFB films. It's a pretty cool setup, and a source of definite Toronto-envy, for me -- you can just go in, sit at a terminal, and punch up any of 1000+ films in the archive. I also managed to buy a copy of the NFB documentary on Peter Watkins; a Norman McClaren set also looked pretty tempting, but I had neither the money to spend nor the room in my carryon.

I don't have a whole lot to say about the Art Gallery of Ontario's Andy Warhol exhibition. It seemed a bit of an act of artistic ventriloquism; Warhol's work was a mere sockpuppet for the clammy hand of David Cronenberg, who curated the show and provided a theoretical framework on the handheld audio guides. The exhibition focused mostly on car crashes, electrocutions, celebrity, and voyeurism, with Cronenberg channelling a hefty dose of JG Ballard into the mix, as you might imagine. Empire, Sleep, Blowjob, Kiss, and various reels of Couch -- the most dynamic of all the films by far -- were set up installation-style among huge Warhol silkscreens. Much as I like Cronenberg, when he started speculating about how the electric chair pieces and Empire were actually self-portraits of Warhol, I kind of tuned him out. You have to be in the mood for that sort of thing, and I wanted to go look at the Murray Favro piece upstairs. Being a Nihilist Spasm Band fan, it turns out, does nothing to prepare you for a large replica of a train's diesel engine. It sort of sits there, singular and solid and in a way, a perfect counterpart to Warhol's Empire, down below. Oh, to be a Torontonian, and gifted with the luxury of contemplating such things at length.

Being a busy tourist, I skipped on. I visited Sw pe books (Swipe, that is), run by an old friend of a friend (they both used to work at Pages, where I would later buy Cormac McCarthy's new novel to read on the plane home, apparently a few days before the official release). Wandering the streets I was compelled to notice a much greater sense of social order; Toronto reminded me more of Tokyo than Vancouver, since everyone pretty much minded their own business and stuck to basic rules of etiquette, not getting in each other's face or way, riding the subways together quietly and negotiating crowded spaces with less tension or weirdness than one finds here (fewer people means more room for everyone to act out, or freak out, or just be fuckin' obnoxious, I guess). There were almost no spare changers, no street crazies trying to ensnare you in their madness, no one who smelled like they'd peed their pants every day for a week without bathing, and tho' there was the occasional person passed out in a doorway or staggering drunk, as in Tokyo, they mostly kept to themselves. The loudest people I encountered were some black youth telling a boisterous story about a gimmick they had for meeting women, where one would chuck a Coke can -- empty, I hope -- at a woman's head, and if she got hit, another would run up, apologize, put down his friends for being "ignorant and shit, but they're my people, what can I do?" and then, if she was willing, "get her math" (her phone number). It's always a bit of a strange trip to here ebonics or to hear black people describing each other as "niggas," since that doesn't get seen much in Vancouver... It's a cultural niche I associate more with the US than Canada, really. In fact, the English one hears in To. seems more Americanized in general; there were announcements on the trains warning people to "stand clear da door," for example... You'd figure that being our cultural center they'd talk MORE like Canadians, but 'tweren't so.

I didn't keep detailed notes for everything I did -- a lot of poking about, alongside periods of chilling with Jill and Mark, drinking beer, and watching downloaded TV shows. By Wednesday I was ready for another gig to be excited about, and come Thursday, I was on the road to Waterloo, discussing my impressions of the greater social order, the greater American influence, and the relatively less aesthetically appealing landscape with Jill, Boris, and Scarlett. The food was definitely an issue: unless you're eating at an ethnic place, I advise great caution. Vegetarian items on menus are few, and it turns out that "chips" is as likely to mean potato chips as French fries. The pizza I ate at the family-style place we stopped at appeared to be of the frozen-in-a-cardboard-box kind. We had a pretty hard time getting uncurdled cream for our coffees, too. But then again, this was Waterloo; it's a small town, and God knows the food ain't so good in small towns outside Vancouver, either.

I took no notes of the Waterloo Nomeansno show. I did a pizza run for Chedsey, marooned at the merch table for the long drive up from Chicago. I thought the band were in good form; they were better the next two nights, having settled in a bit. I didn't get a whole lot out of Ford Pier's opening set -- it was too 1970s for me, tho' he played well and there were some pretty cool solos. Once NMN got on, I recall liking that Tom sang a couple more songs than usual -- commentary is that he seems more and more like a "full member" of Nomeansno this time out --- and I was delighted when Rob appeared to wink at me from stage, apparently recognizing me from our literary discussions and the interview I did with him (which, we hope, will soon appear in Skyscraper). I was pleased that Tom dropped by the table to see Jill and Scarlett before the show; they both like him a lot and I think he gets a great kick out of it, tho' he's a quirky guy. (I haven't figured him out yet but he seems alternately extremely self-confident and unself-conscious -- when singing "Big Dick" with his shirt off, for instance, or berating assholes in the audience -- and strangely sweet and shy, when showered with the attentions of his fans -- which he is a bit more willing than the brothers Wright to indulge). The set and such is on the rather ungainly Nomeanswhatever board, somewhere or other; things began with the audience somewhat conservatively listening, a few enthusiasts up front bobbing up and down, and it wasn't until after the halfway point -- unfortunately after the band had played "The River," my favourite song -- that a couple of locals decided that things were lame and got some action started in the moshpit (I thanked them afterwards, telling them I had been secretly judging Waterloo, and that they had redeemed it). Tho' as usual I could only participate for a few songs before getting tuckered out (see appendix one, "Too Old to Mosh").

Hamilton in general was more interesting. I'd been told that it was considered to be "the armpit of Ontario," a steelworking town where there were a fair share of rednecks and a number of social problems. Not considered a very classy place. I'd already stared a bit at a guy with a mullet at Waterloo and was most curious to see what Hamilton would be like: turned out to my delight that it reminded me of Vancouver! The druggies were less far gone -- I mistook one spare-changer with a speech impediment for am innocent bum, toothless by happenstance, and forked over some change; I was informed afterwards that that's what a junkie looks like in Ontario... There was less overt looniness, but the overall mood wasn't all that different from getting kinda close to the Downtown Eastside on a weekend. My hosts seemed kind of nervous about being sparechanged and seeing drunk, hostile people stalking the streets; I thought their reactions were kinda cute. (They also were more willing than I to gawk at a piss-drunk blonde girl, dressed like your typical Granville Street bar star, making out with another woman; the two had stumbled downstairs from the bar above the Hamilton venue, called, I shit you not, the Dirty Dog Saloon). Four opening acts that night were a bit much to swallow, tho' it was delightful to see that Vancouver's The Feminists were added to the bill (they just happened to be in the neighbourhood and were added to the roster). They're getting much more confident each time I see them, and their song structures are complex and interesting and original; I suspect they may End Up Somewhere. Hamilton's the Responsibles will probably stay where they are, meanwhile, but they put on a game, if somewhat predictable, show; the high point was their cover of the Damned's "Neat Neat Neat."

I was smokin' a joint in the parking lot during Ford Pier's set, what can I say. The pot was what I've come to think of as below average, but it's hard to judge any town's dope on the basis of one experience. There's bad stuff here, too...

As for the Nomeansno show, great as it was, it was a painful thing to behold, since Rob had a horrible throat cold that had set in overnight, via Chedsey. (He upbraided the audience at the start of the set, "If I hork up a tonsil, I don't want to see it tomorrow on eBay!"). The band played intensely, but Tom got to do an added couple of songs, including "Small Parts," absent from the Waterloo set. The high points were the few older songs where Rob seemed to actually veer INTO the pain and deliberately RAISE his voice; the readings of "Give me the Push" and "The Tower" were particularly intense. Any of the new songs that actually required Rob to carry a melody -- "Heaven is the Dust Beneath my Shoes," for instance -- sounded ridiculous, and it seemed like Rob, sick and sweaty and fighting it for all he was worth, was having trouble remembering some of the lyrics. He solved the problem the next night at the Horseshoe in Toronto: he came up with new ones: "The other day a bunch of my friends got together and decided to form a political focus group, but they didn't invite me, they said I was too conservative, too reactionary. I was hurt at the time, pissed off, irritated, but then I thought: I don't have anything against liberals... It's just that they're really full of shit!" Somehow, between shows, Rob had completely recovered his voice, and the gig stands up there (alongside last year's Mesa Luna show in Vancouver) as one of the finest Nomeansno performances I've witnessed. John drummed up a fury, Holliston continued to do a bunch of songs (tho' the set was, I believe, absent his reading of "Predators" from the two previous nights), and at one point, Ford Pier jumped onstage to do a Show Business Giants tune ("Sugartown"), which was a treat.

I'd had a somewhat unusual lead up to the Toronto show, however: Tony Conrad had played down the street as part of the X Avant festival, and I was there, along with, I believe, a fellow named Ivants who recognized me (and who I recognized) from the Hamilton night. (Nice to see fellow punks at a highbrow avant-garde gig). The Music Gallery, where the event was held, actually was inside St. George the Martyr's Anglican Church, if you can dig that.

Pleasingly, two of the opening acts had Vancouver connections. Kelly Churko and Ben Wilson had just performed with their Australian counterparts in Telephone at the Western Front in Vancouver the night before. I joked with Kelly about how, given the name of the project, I figured he’d be phoning in his performance, but no. The tables, set up for them, had the usual array of laptops, knobs and levels, and wires – tho’ there was also an acoustic guitar. The music they made was of a quiet, ambient variety, with more than enough interesting texture to hang your attention on. Intense, meditative, beautiful stuff.

Following them was former Vancouverite Christine Duncan and her project, Barnyard Drama (Note: the song samples are much more “pop rock” than what they did live). Christine dressed like a librarian on summer holidays and sang like an acidhead who thought she was a bird. If you'll pardon the innate sexism of the observation, I find her sexy – she reminds me of an old girlfriend of mine – and slightly scary at the same time, like she might just be Too Much to Handle. She’s got fine control of her instrument, tho’, and gibbered and yelped and popped and squeaked and gargled with the passion of a Phil Minton or a Paul Dutton (or a Maggie Nichols or a Lauren Newton, if you’d prefer, tho’ her style seemed more akin to Minton, I thought). She doubtlessly noted me noticing her in the audience (she didn’t stay for the whole Tony Conrad performance!) but I don’t think she remembered chatting with me at the Vox Festival for Vancouver New Music. I didn’t really take notes, tho’ I recall enjoying Bernard Falaise’s guitar (and the performance overall, really).

And then came Tony Conrad. He pulled a sheet across the front of the stage at a slight angle; it was backlit with soft colours and blown by a fan for a rippling effect, and he (on violin), along with cellist Anne Bourne, played behind it, their shadows looming above us on the sheet, their actual performances unseen. (I chatted with him afterwards and he mumbled that the “doubling effect” was very important, but he didn’t make clear why; he was putting away gear as he spoke and tended to talk in odd directions). The music looped and loped and droned and seemed rich and varied and deeply nuanced, tho’ no doubt the artists were sticking very close to playing the same intensely restricted series of notes; the effect of drone music is far greater, far more complex than its minimal means would suggest. The performance – which lasted about an hour – saw me in varied states of consciousness, intensely watching the shadow play, focusing on the music, drifting, allowing my own thoughts to burble up, losing myself in them, falling asleep, waking up, attempting to meditate, focusing only on the overones for awhile, then the violin, then the cello, then deciding to watch the shadow play again and letting the sound wash over me. I asked Mr. Conrad if he’d consider coming to Vancouver and told him he should contact Vancouver New Music, if so; I’m sure there’s an audience here for him. He seemed enthusiastic, but said he’d particularly like to go by train...

I decided to be an autograph hound with him. I have the oddest collection of signed stuff. I almost never ask the “rock stars,” the big names, for their signature; tho’ I have hung out with and/or interviewed Nomeansno, Nels Cline, A Silver Mount Zion, and others, I didn’t pester a one of ‘em to sign anything. No, it’s people like Otomo Yoshihide and John Oswald that I bug (tho’ Oswald refused to sign the Plunderphonics box I held up for him, offering amusingly obscurantist reasons for not signing it, tho’ there may be a legal story there...). In a way, it was a shame not to meditate longer on the Tony Conrad show, but it was off to the Horseshoe (a venue I quite liked) for the final Nomeansno show that I saw – the perfect climax to the week.

And then the trek to the airport, being very very careful not to pack any sharp objects (tho’ the Liquid Paper made it through again).

Not much else to add. It costs over $25 to go up the CN Tower: fuck it. Lake Ontario was about as pretty as the Fraser River, if you get my meaning (tho’ there were some large orange butterflies in the park nearby that were pleasant to watch). There are, as you would expect, many good antiquarian book dealers (Abelard Books wanted $1200 for a copy of Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark, with a scribbled inscription from a previous owner, no less; I had thought bookdealers here were being unrealistic asking $850!). The Fox and Firkin pub on John Street, I think, is a pleasant place to stop for a Guinness. Rotate This were probably the best of the music shops I explored. A week was long enough: I felt like I got the idea, and I now feel like I have Toronto out of my system and don’t need to go back (unless someone offers me money to be there. Anyone?)

Thanks again to Jill and Mark and Boris and Scarlet for playing host to me, tho'! I have a pretty small space, but will reciprocate to th' best of my ability if you ever make it out this way!


Appendix One: Too Old To Mosh

I went to see a punk rock show
I really love ol’ Nomeansno
I’m glad these guys are still alive
I saw them back in ‘85
And when they play my favourite song
I know the words, I sing along
I sometimes forget how old I am
So stop me if I start to slam

Chorus:
It’s come to this
I’ve gotten soft
Got a pain in my chest
And the sweat’s dripping off
I’ve lost my breath
My shoe’s come off
My gosh:
Too old to mosh
Too old to mosh
Too old to mosh

The kids today just don’t know how
It’s all just too violent now
But how I seem to long for it
That self-transcendence in the pit
Then someone flies into my shoulder
There’s no respect for someone older
Now I know just what I’ll do
I’ll show these kids a thing or two

(chorus)

Now I’m lying on my back
I think I’ve had a heart attack
I should have done more warmup stretches
My back is stiff, my side’s in stitches
My neck is sore, my breath disturbed
The kids continue unpreturbed
Next time I know what’s best for me
A balcony seat is where I’ll be

(chorus)

Ellen McIlwaine is coming, has new CD



Reasons to see Ellen McIlwaine: she scats in Japanese and sometimes yodels (in the universal language of yodelling). She plays a mean slide guitar. She turned me and various other fans onto Joseph Spence and the odd blues variants of the Bahamas (and has been known to cover odd songs from the Nonesuch anthology, The Real Bahamas). She's a helluva storyteller and her version of "Can't Find My Way Home" rivals the Swans' (and both may well be better than the original). I have not yet heard her new recording, Mystic Bridge. Though I often find recordings of Ms. McIlwaine "nicen her up" a bit too much, she assures me that this one is "recorded live off the floor, so it's a slice of the real thing (with a few overdubs)." Soundclips available at the link above. Meantime, I highly recommend y'all check her out at the WISE Hall, at 1882 Adanac, at 9PM on October 6th; tickets are $20 at the usual places, or call(604) 254 - 5858. Cassius Khan will accompany Ellen on tablas, and David Roundell will be opening on -- hey, Heather, take note -- the accordion. It's not my usual fare of avant-garde improv and political punk, but Ellen is pretty damn unique and I absolutely loved her last performance here, as part of an all-night event at the Western Front... I wonder if she listened to those Kan Mikami and Tomokawa Kazuki CDs I sent her? She should...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Guest Movie Review: The Journals of Knud Rasmussen

Jack Vermee of the VIFF has sent me a review of Zacharias Kunuk's new film! It doesn't appear to be part of the VIFF, so I guess will be opening soonish theatrically...!

The Journals of Knud Rasmussen

Directed by Zacharias Kunuk, Norman Cohn. Starring Pakak Innuksuk, Leah Angutimarik, Samueli Ammaq. Opening Friday Sept. 29th at ??????????????????? Cinemas.

Three Stars

By Jack Vermee

With a less robust, straightforward narrative than their debut art-house hit Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn’s sophomore feature is a more challenging work. The title is a bit of a misnomer—while the film is based on the Danish ethnographer’s records of his time among the Inuit in the 1920s, Kunuk and Cohn choose to dramatize Rasmussen’s writings from an Inuit point of view, with only the occasional nod to their source in the form of a few scenes with the Dane and a European colleague. The majority of the movie is in the vein of Atanarjuat—location shooting, age-old Inuit rituals brought to life, much singing and humour, and the odd bout of (here otherworldly) sex—but the goal in Journals is to depict and eventually mourn the beginning of the end of the traditional Inuit way of life.

It would have been easy for Kunuk and Cohn to rest on their laurels and make another myth-based film like Atanarjuat, but Journals is a logical, if risky, artistic move forward. Their story of Avva (Pakak Innuksuk), the last Inuit shaman, and his headstrong daughter Apak (Leah Angutimarik) shows the destructive encroachment of the white man — and Christianity — on old Inuit ways. Elliptical in structure (something that may frustrate less patient viewers) and containing a surfeit of song, the film has a cumulative power that pays off in spades in its final act. As the sole internationally known filmic keepers of the Inuit flame, one can’t help but wish Kunuk and Cohn well — and look forward to what they will come up with next.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Few Films to Look Forward To


Media or no, I have to spend my time perusing the festival guide like anyone else -- so I'm getting started now. Thought I'd mention what look to be a few highlights. Renaissance, pictured above, is an animated, black and white cyberpunk film noir; that's enough right there for me to want to see it. Into Great Silence -- many stills from which are at that last link -- sounds like it will be this year's equivalent to James Benning's 13 Lakes, by the far the most profound experience of last year's festival; meditative cinema for those athletes of perception out there... See here for showtimes... Though it sounds like it's more commercial fare, I'm told by my Korean students that The King and the Clown is a must-see, though I have not seen it yet myself (the Korean title actually is closer to "The King's Man" and it was a huge hit over there); certainly there is some very exciting cinema coming out of Korea of late, so I'm in. In terms of epic-scale cinema, two other films sound like they're going to stand out -- Alan Franey, at the press conference, drew attention to the controversial Egyptian film The Yacoubian Building, which does sound fascinating... and then there's the Jacques Rivette study of the '60's, Out 1: Noli Me Tangere, which, in its longest version -- which will screen here, introduced by the Chicago Reader's Jonathan Rosenbaum -- runs something like 12 hours. There are many, many more films to choose from (there's even a new adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story, "So Much Water So Close to Home," which was also treated in Altman's Short Cuts, tho' not entirely successfully, I thought. That film is called Jindabyne and stars Gabriel Byrne...). I cannot do anything like justice to the variety of films to screen. More of my writing on upcoming films can be found in the September and October issues of Discorder, of course, under the Cinema Aspirant byline. Meantime... the catalogues are on sale, or if you'd rather do it on the cheap, all the films are now listed online!

See you at the festival!

The Winks fall into the ocean...



That's it, folks, the Winks are off on their cross-Canada adventure, from which Todd and Tyr will not return (for a long time, anyhow) -- they're relocating to Montreal. My interview with the band is here! A great last show, with smoking confetti, a tapdancing Tyr, circular balloon art and a final closing cover of "These Boots are Made for Walkin'" (I was rootin' for "Expressway to Yr. Skull" but I like surprises, too). The illustration is the bartender and his wife, by Todd and his friend Marek Bula -- see this month's Discorder for a print copy of it and an explication of "Snakes!" (An updated version of which appears on "Birthday Party," the new album, which is due in stores on November 14th). Safe voyages, Winks -- we will see you again, I am sure...!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Satan Beetle


Someone on the Nomeanswhatever discussion forum has a thread inviting people to "Show Us Your Toys," so I thought I'd see if I could use my blog as a way of getting an image online there... So here's my favourite toy, my Japanese Ultraman Monster, Satan Beetle. (I once gave an Ultraman monster to David Byrne, but that's another story).

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Books, for a change: Robert Stone, Cormac McCarthy

I don't have much to say about it, since I haven't read it, but Cormac McCarthy's new novel, The Road, is due out in September. There are very few writers whose work I follow devotedly, reading every book that comes out. In fact, there are only two: McCarthy and Robert Stone (tho' the latter's last couple of books have been disappointing to me, he will never lose his place in my heart after A Hall of Mirrors and his masterpiece, Dog Soldiers). Stone also has a new book coming out, though this time, it appears to be a memoir of the '60s.

For those odd fellows who actually know Stone's writing, they might be interested in his book review of John Updike's The Terrorist... Updike I have never spent much time on, tho' this one sounds intriguing.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Subhumans Alert!


Hey! Check it out, the Subhumans' new album -- the Vancouver Subhumans -- comes out this week! (In theory, anyway!). I'm workin' on an article on the band -- don't exactly know where it's gonna end up yet, but it's some pretty interesting stuff, and so I thought I'd share a bit that I don't think I'm gonna use anywhere else... Something that came up in passing was how plugged in individual members of the band were to contemporary popular culture and the information age. Turns out that Brian doesn't have a computer or cable (tho' he does watch DVDs -- I mean, the guy has KIDS, he can't completely unplug). I don't quite recall what the state of Gerry "Nature Punk" Hannah's technology is at, but I'm pretty sure he said he doesn't have a TV, tho' he does have a computer... Mike Graham and I got talkin' about all this, relating to his terrific new song, "Celebrity:"

Me: Do you own a TV? Do you follow pop culture?

Mike Graham: How can you not follow pop culture?

Me: I dunno, I get the impression that Gerry kinda steers clear of that stuff.

Mike Graham: I think he watches TV. He’s probably just telling you that... but he’s certainly more disgusted with it than I am!

I thought that was a fun little moment... Actually, it reminds me of eavesdropping on Hannah chatting at a party with a lesbian couple about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was one of the more entertaining bits of eavesdropping I've done. It suggests that Graham may just be right...

And speaking of popular culture: since the whole band is touring across Canada really soon, I couldn't resist asking them if they had seen Hard Core Logo. The only member who has -- scoring a point on the big chalkboard I keep in my room -- is Mike Graham ("oh, yeah, that was a great movie!"). Joe Dick rides with you in spirit, boys. You may not want him, but there he is...

By the way, the new material sounds great. My favourite song of those I've heard is Hannah's
"I Got Religion," which we will be going into in the interview if and when it gets published. Check out the lyrics here -- it should win an award for the number of birds wounded with one stone, and the tune is as catchy and danceable a punk number as you can get while being totally true to its roots. All the songs I've heard manage to sound fresh and old school at the same time, like these guys were cryogenically frozen in the early 80's and thawed out just now; the new and old material blended in seamlessly at the Brickyard gig last year, and I get the feeling that it's gonna be a great album. By the way, if you click the first link on this page, you can access an MP3 of another of Hannah's compositions for the new album, "World at War." The band plays the Lamplighter on October 13th... See you there!

On the Dangers of Translation Programs


Just received a Chinese copy of Tarkovsky's Ivan's Childhood off eBay. One of his earliest films, it's one of the best deals on eBay; you can usually get it for under $10, postage included, and it's a really moving film. It's smaller in scale and more direct than many of Tarkovsky's metaphysical masterpieces, but it's no less powerful, telling the story of a young Russian boy engaged in fighting the Nazis. Alas, the poor Chinese! Faced with the daunting task of translating the description of the film from Chinese to English, they fled to a computer translation program. The results are really, really unfortunate (and hilarious) -- I am typing this, word for word, off the back of the DVD case:

"First work, tower that childhood that ten thousand is a tower can man this war the movie is a beginning for minister slice, scribinging his uncommon business of his head. His poem the story inside of style at 12-year old and small ten thousand is already early clues. ten thousand after his village encounter Nazi invading wash became the orphan, he to were entered the captive's by pass. The cleverness's ten thousand escaped to come out to we re take ined by a captain. The captain plan sends the school so that he go to rear, but ten thousand howiever insist on to help the Soviets Red Army, henice he sneaken ined the inside of virtu ous soldier."

Reading copy like this makes me feel like I made the right career choice... Sometimes my students actually try to "cheat" by using programs like these. As you may imagine, it's not all that difficult to spot...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Unrequited Love at the Vancouver International Film Festival

Another of the upcoming treats of the Vancouver International Film Festival is Chris Petit's meditation on stalking, Unrequited Love. (Sorry, that last is just a link to a completely undescriptive IMDB listing -- if you have a good site for the movie, let me know). The film begins with a fascinating shot: we see a close up of an attractive blonde woman in her apartment, putting on makeup; the image is shakily shot on handheld video, and seems to promise a cheaply made film with little craft behind it -- until Petit pulls back to reveal that the "video" is being shot from OUTSIDE the woman's home, and that we've been spying through her window, though through whose eyes we are spying is unclear. It's the perfect opening, since the film deals not only with stalking but with the technology of voyeurism. Based on Gregory Dart's book of the same name, and starring Dart, the film chronicles a man's experiences of being stalked by a woman, who uses all sorts of modern technology to weave her web -- text messages, voicemail, email, and so forth; video cameras are employed to film both characters, tho' the film keeps us in the dark as to who, exactly, is filming whom, such that our own complicity as voyeurs is constantly called into question. It's a creepy experience and an interesting meditation on being stalked; stalkers are one point described -- I believe in Dart's words -- as "fundamentalists of love." An anciliary treat for film buffs is that Petit brilliantly revisits locales used by other famous films shot in London, as part of his consideration of cinema and the relationship of the captured image to voyeurism and stalking; the first is the best -- the most startling and pleasing to see -- tho' I'd rather not point out exactly which films is referenced, lest it spoil the fun ("Wait a minute, isn't that the same tree used in..."). Alas, I've been so busy pursuing a Pointed Sticks interview and a Subhumans interview that I actually couldn't quite finish the screener I was watching, so I'll be in attendance (hopefully unstalked) for the actual screening of this film, once the festival gets underway. By the way, more on Dart's book here.

In other news, a python that swallowed a gator in the Everglades has apparently exploded.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Guantanamoland

Now what should we call this -- guerrilla sculpture? culture jamming? a political protest by any other means? a wake-up call?

A pointless gesture?

Gotta wonder -- do Al Qaeda members know about shit like this?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Winks Errata



I do believe that I incorrectly identified the date for the Winks final Vancouver show in the Discorder article -- things changed -- so here it is "officially!" If you've never seen the Winks, consider this an obligation!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Discorder, plus the Approach of the Vancouver International Film Festival

Still from the Spanish film, The Mist in the Palm Trees

Well, here's a bit of self-censorship for you. I had put my comments up on Discorder's clever/stoopid interim message that popped up criticizing Internet Explorer and saying they weren't going to make the online issue available to people using it... but it turns out it's a temporary state of things; they're up and workin'. So I'm omitting my previous commentary.

The Vancouver International Film Festival is just around the corner. I've written up about nine films for Discorder, for the September and October issues. (September focuses on Old Joy, The Net, and In-Between Days, all of which I recommend, and can be viewed in the Cinema Aspirant column, above; October looks at documentaries, mostly on terrorism). Unfortunately, the finest of the films I've been fortunate enough to preview, an Iranian film called Men at Work, didn't make it. Directed by Mani Haghighi -- great interview there -- it's a charming, wry, and very wise film in which four middle class Iranian men, en route to watch a soccer game with friends, end up derailed by a spontaneous project involving knocking a large, immovable pillar of rock into a gorge. What begins as whimsy progresses to folly and ends up as a sort of mission. I was reminded of something John Cassavetes once said -- I can't find it on a cursory flip through Cassavetes on Cassavetes, but I'm sure it's in there somewhere -- about how men, in all things, love to play -- and was somewhat surprised to be thinking of Cassavetes, watching an Iranian film. It's nowhere near as rough-and-tumble -- it's a very gentle film -- but it's not at all foreign; aside from the landscape, it could be set anywhere in North America. Hey, does anyone know if the curving roads are the same ones shot by Abbas Kiarostami for A Taste of Cherry -- or do all roads there look like that? (Kiarostami provided the story idea for this film). More on the film here, tho' I think the stuff about it looking like a home movie is crap -- this is a finely composed and crafted piece of cinema, intimate tho' it may be.

What else can I say? The Mist in the Palm Trees was one film I didn't get a chance to finish, but it's visually amazing, assembled from found footage, often quite decayed. It's a very ambitious piece of work -- though the poetic narration, which deals with themes of memory, images, and desire, sort of washes over you (or breezes by you); the images reign. Fans of experimental film (and/or Decasia) will love this one. I'll be looking at it again myself when the festival proper starts.

Finally, y'all are aware that Jonathan Rosenbaum is going to be in town, right? Click the Taste of Cherry link above for a sample of his writing. He goes off-kilter every now and then, but he's one of the most perceptive major critics writing for an American paper at the moment, and I highly recommend his book Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films we can See. Excerpted at length there, so check it out.

Hm. 4:30 AM, press conference for the VIFF in six hours... I think I should sleep.

As a final note, tho', anyone following my Unabomber thread might find this amusing.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Dewey Redman, RIP

Rest in peace, Mr. Redman. I always loved The Ear of the Behearer -- "Boody," with Sirone's killer bassline, was a favourite.

More Mice

It had been a few weeks since I saw a mouse, just long enough for me to sign a lease for another year at the building where I live. This morning, a mouse came out of my kitchen, looked at me, gave a start, and then ran under some bookshelves.

I felt quite calm about it. Amazing how one adjusts to these things. I placed a garbage bin beside the bookshelves and threw a pen under the bottom shelf, hoping the mouse would run out and into the garbage can.

It ran out and around the garbage can, and under the fridge.

Nuts.

I blocked off my kitchen and continued working. Pointed Sticks interview to finish, Subhumans interview to prep for, films to review for the film festival and my Discorder column. I cannot be distracted by involuntary rodent pets.

Just now, I was. I was putting the finishing touches on the New! Print! Edition! of my 'zine, based on THIS VERY BLOG, when one of the many mousetraps strewn about my apartment gave a SNAP!!! Before I could turn around, the squeaking had started.

The squeaking of a mouse caught in a trap must be similar to the squeaking of any injured or sick animal, calling for its mother. Plaintive, desperate, protesting, helpless. The mouse was very much alive, the trap having snapped shut across the middle of its back. It was struggling and in pain and very, very scared.

I leap into action. Get the garbage bin, turn the trap over so the mouse is right-side up again. The mouse, while squeaking and dazed, tried to crawl away, dragging the trap. A good sign! It was still pretty spry. I picked up the trap and placed it delicately in the bottom of my plastic garbage bin.

Next, to the kitchen. Find gloves, find gloves. Something to protect my fingers. Injured animals may bite and may carry diseases. Gloves on hands, I opened the trap.

To my relief, the mouse stopped squeaking and began to explore the bottom of the garbage bin. What's going on, it seemed to be thinking? Put shoes on over bare feet, no time for socks. I left my door unlocked and made my way down to the front exit, moving as quickly as I could. There was a Japanese twentysomething with dyed blonde hair entering with his key in hand.

"Hey, check this out," I say, in passing.

He looks inside. "Wow. Mouse!" he says.

I resist the urge to show off and say "Nezumi." I hurry down the street. The mouse, I see, is not really moving its back legs. It looks like maybe I might have snapped its spine. That would be bad. That would mean sure death at the hands of a cat or some larger rodent. Maybe it's not in any apparent pain because the trap snapped its spinal column, and it can't feel anything?

It has grey-brown fur -- no blood or visible wounds -- with little black eyes, and though it is shivering a little, it seems alert. It pulls itself along on its front legs, at first just dragging the back ones, moving about the peripheries of the bin. My plan is to take it two blocks away and leave it somewhere safe. If the spine is broken, perhaps I'd be best to kill it quickly, though?

I notice after a minute that the back legs are working. Not well, but better with each minute. Phew.

I notice a dark crawlspace under a building, big enough only for fellow rodents and insects, and decide that this is the place. I tell the mouse firmly that it is not welcome to come back, that there are things in my apartment that are dangerous for mice and that it will probably die if it returns.

(To see ourselves as others see us: "Look, honey, there a man in plastic gloves standing by the road talking into a garbage bin!").

I walk over to the crawlspace and set the bin down. The mouse runs out. Slowly, but all four legs are clearly fully functional. It takes a minute to gauge the situation -- it isn't particularly afraid of me, I guess because it thinks of me more as "the man who set me free from the painful trap" than as "the man who set the trap in the first place." After a minute, without looking back, it scurries under the building.

I rise to leave, carrying my plastic bin with me.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Jandek in Toronto and Seattle

Photos by Dan Kibke


My Nerve Magazine article on Jandek isn't quite up yet, but it's in print around town if anyone is interested. Thanks to everyone involved (especially Andrew Morgan, Gary Topp, Nilan Perera, Emil Amos, and Seth Tisue -- check his Jandek site for more information on all things Jandek. Apologies to Seth, too -- a paragraph he wrote got accidentally attributed to me, due to some hidden HTML glitch or such in my emailing with the Nerve. It was a pretty good paragraph, so the error works in my favour... but I swear it wasn't me!). The man from Corwood plays Toronto in September and Seattle in October, and I'm sure SOME Vancouverites will be at these shows.... Including, I hope, ME! I need a ride to Seattle, tho'. Any offers?

Meantime, Gary Topp sends this update for the Jandek show in Toronto, which sounds pretty cool:

Author Of Book Based On Jandek To Give Reading In Toronto: Arkansas author Danen Jobe will be reading from and signing copies of his new UK-publishedbook, "Niagra Blues: Slingerland," at Circus Books and Music (253 Gerrard StreetEast, between Sherbourne and Parliament) on Monday, September 18 at 6 PM. The short novel is a fictional history of Jandek, imagining him as a young man inthe Ozark Mountains developing his unique musical ideas against a backdrop of cultural change and family turmoil. Projected to be the first in a series tracing an imagined life and not intended to be taken as the "real" story of Jandek, the book offers a unique approach based principally on gleanings from his music. It's been written with the consent and cooperation of Corwood Industries, the sole publisher of Jandek’s catalog since 1978. It's also a story of the people who came from rural Arkansas, and the folk and blues music that formed a soundtrack to their lives. Among the other characters represented are legendary bluesman Son House, and the celebrated southern poet Frank Stanford. Jobe’s reading will coincide with Jandek’s appearance in Toronto, and is free to the public.



Oh: thanks for Dan Kibke for takin' the photos of me showing off my framed correspondence with Corwood, at the top of this page. Read the Nerve article and it will all make sense...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Pretty Cool Art Bergmann Find


Hm. Pre-K-Tels, pre-Young Canadians, Art Bergmann was the guitarist and vocalist for a band called Shmorgs. We've had two copies of their only LP at Carson Books (3425 W. Broadway) for quite some time, and because the cover art sucks SOOOOOOOOOOOO bad, I never took the time to give it a spin until tonight. Turns out it's pretty goddamn good! It isn't remotely punk -- it comes across as a sorta structurally loose rock album in the Rolling Stones mode -- but Bergmann's vocals and guitar are great and some of the lyrics are really delightful (he even quotes the Stones' "Starfucker" at one point, to rather fun effect). Carson's is still having a 40% off LP sale, so you can get a great deal on this LP (we have the Poisoned EP and one of those later, kinda embarrassing Art LPs, like, the one produced by John Cale or such). If I were still doin' LPs, I would probably pick this up. (As things are, I'm quite content with the Young Canadians compilation CD, tho' I kinda prefer the OOP Zulu track listing, which mixes up the live and studio stuff, to the Sudden Death reissue, which retains the integrity of the original releases...

Channels 3X4 at the Columbia

Observations spurred on by my attendance at the Channels 3X4 gig at the Columbia tonight:

1. Many young people apparently enjoy venturing into the downtown eastside for gigs these days. I dunno what it's about, but it seems to be a scene. The Columbia was packed -- the gig sold out, at $9 a head. The crowd was so youthful that I, balding, bearded, and looking very much like a man in his late 30s, which I am, still had to have a conversation about ID at the door. The kids inside did NOT appear to be downtown eastside residents.

2. Nothing brings home how middle class and well-socialized you are like seeing one of the kids in the line you're in unselfconsciously turn, undo his pants, and piss unceremoniously onto the wall, so that streams of his urine trickle down past his friend's shoes... a friend who either didn't notice or care that his sneakers were getting pee on them. The pisser seemed well-groomed and well-dressed, enough for his freedom with his cock and his fluid to befuddle me. I do not understand. I stood well back from the piss, and was careful to step over it when the line moved forward.

3. The youthful punk scene in Vancouver is pretty vibrant. I don't exactly know who the band was onstage when I got on -- some blonde who reminded me of this girl in grade 2 I had a crush on (Tammy Lynne Badke, where are you?) was enthusiastically shouting incomprehensible lyrics and striking poses onstage, while lots of 20somethings danced. It was odd to see, since the music, really, was of a variety that has been done many, many times before. It surely can no longer seem like any sort of rebellious statement, or like something that occupies any particularly elite or exceptional niche, but this didn't seem to put a damper on things for anyone. Maybe I'm Just Getting Old.

4. That said, I quite liked what Channels 3X4 were doing -- check out some of their songs at the Myspace page linked above. The lineup was keyboard, female singer, and drums; all three members sang at different times. I'd really gone to the gig to get my Derek Bailey book back off the keyboardist, Jesse, but he forgot to bring it. He got me in for free, by way of apology. The band is going to tour Europe in a few days. They have potential -- lots of energy to burn.

But I really didn't feel like getting my feet stepped on in a mosh pit tonight, and so I decided to go home after a few songs. The piss-patch was still dark on the sidewalk and my bus transfer was still valid.

Here's something interesting: whenever I end up in East Vancouver, I see rats. I saw two tonight, big grey ones socializing under a dumpster. Returning home to the west end, where I have never yet seen a rat, I encountered a skunk; I see a fair number of those. The question is: are skunks somehow more attracted to reasonably affluent neighborhoods than rats? Why do we get the skunks?

Do people in West Van have rabbits, is that how it works?