Friday, April 29, 2011
Since I wrote that piece, I've said my goodbyes to the bulldogs at Reel Bulldog and wished the owner luck. His last day is Sunday, and, dying medium or no, I may go down and pick up a few more titles, as the prices drop even lower. I don't plan to ever buy a Blu-Ray player, anyhow... and my giant clunky RCA TV, bought in the early 1990's, still works just fine; short of having to move, I can see no good reason to replace it.
Meantime - there's another pending video store closure in Vancouver, one which I knew nothing about when writing my piece below. But I don't want to go public on it just yet... more soon...
Allan: So was the genesis of The Listener in the story of the Lippe elections? ...because there's also this quest for meaning in art that Louise is on. Which came first?
David: Well, I have a lifelong interest in art and politics, and so it's inevitable that that's a concern that I would want to write about - the mixing of art and politics, and the pros and cons of that. But to start with, it was really the story of the Lippe election, which is sort of uncovering a piece of obscure hidden history. Considering all the stuff that's been written about the Third Reich and Hitler and Nazism, how can it possibly be that there's a story that hasn't been written, that there is no book on, no source for? I couldn't believe that I'd come across something like that - though I know that in Germany there is a book about it, in the actual state, because the city archivist told me there was. But... yeah, the Lippe election came first; then I thought, well, I don't want it to just be a history book, I want it to encompass why the past is important to the present and why the present is important to the future. I wanted to draw those links, and I thought - if I had a modern story wrapped around it, I could make those connections, and it wouldn't just be a moment in time.
Allan: So where did your interest in the Lippe story come from?
David: I first came across it in reading a book about Hitler's rise to power, and I'd never heard of the story before. In the book that I read, it was mentioned in passing that the Lippe elections were somewhat pivotal in how Hitler got to be named Chancellor. And so I was intrigued by this story, and I looked into it more and more, and I started to find bits and pieces in a whole number of history books; but no one went into it in huge detail. So I had to piece these things together, in order to form a picture. And then I discovered speeches that were made during that time, that election, and the more I researched how it came to be that Hitler was named Chancellor, the more I realized that this was a really significant election, and pivotal for the Nazi party and Hitler to achieve success. They had continuously risen in the polls, since 1928, and then their support decreased - so it was a crucial moment, only two months before this election in Lippe. And I thought - I'd never heard of this election, it's never come up, and yet it seems fundamental to Hitler's fortunes.
Allan: A lot of the story, as you tell it, turns around this newspaper plate that's prepared, outing the Nazis and what they're doing, that is never used. Was that entirely fictional? Was that a device you came up with...? The book in part deals with the failure of activism, art, or journalism, so the story of that plate seems to really tie in themes in the novel...
David: It's made up to a degree, but it's all based around a true piece of writing. What I discovered was that the party leader did write this article that was to go in the newspaper, with the title that you see in my book. I could find no other reference to it in the world; and it was pulled mysteriously by the party leader, who had written it. Whether the plates were made is a fiction, perhaps, on my part, but the piece of writing and the headline is true. I just built an idea around it, because I liked the idea of a metal plate, of the permanence of a metal plate. A lot of the book is past and present; there's a motif of people doing the same action in the 1930's as they do today, so the plate was for comparison. We still use metal plates now, but it's definitely an old fashioned way of doing things, everything is digital now...
Allan: And the characters of Rudolf and Marie are also fictional?
David: Yes, they are.
Allan: Is Louise inspired by anyone in particular?
David: She's inspired by - I like a lot of the Weimar era artists, like George Grosz, John Heartfield, and Käthe Kollwitz. And so in some ways, they're all kind of an inspiration, as a political artist.
Allan: And the idea of an activist dying, in connection with the Woodward's W... is there any particular reference point for that? David: Well, it's all fiction, but I wanted to give it a local connection, to where the artwork was being created. I thought that that was important. And I looked at the Vancouver skyline, and - we have the mountains, but as far as the city skyline, we don't really have anything that compelling, until you see that the W is there - it's actually the most distinctive part of the skyline we have. And as a kid, my parents and I would go shopping there for groceries, and all our birthday cakes came from Woodwards. So I have a real personal relationship with Woodwards, as a place that my family would go to. And also, it is a symbol of development in the downtown eastside, and I thought it was incredibly relevant - especially with SFU putting itself there, as a place of learning and knowledge; how does that fit into the general area? So I thought, of all the spots in Vancouver, the W represents a hotspot of what's going on in the city. Also, where activism in the past has occurred, including the Gastown riot and the fight for the Safe Injection site. I thought it tied in with the whole idea of art and politics.
Allan: It does, but the story of the acivist's death also creates a question of complicity, of the role of the artist in society, since Louise is accused at times of inspiring this Cambodian doctor, Vann, in an act that results in his death. She seems to leave Vancouver in a state of guilt. So it creates an interesting question of the role of the artist in society, and what the artist is to be held responsible for - through their actions or inactions. Though one thing I was unclear on is exactly how this man is inspired by Louise's sculpture, in such a way that she could be held responsible...
David: I mean, the connection is that Louise made a sculpture about the French anarchist Louise Michel, and we know that France colonized Cambodia - and so there's that whole French influence there, which Vann would be aware of. That's why it would be of interest to him, but also Louise Michel's reference to fighting, to fighting oppressive situations, in essence. I don't go into a great deal of detail about that, but I don't think, in many cases, when people are inspired by art or a quotation or such, that it takes much more than that. So I thought, "I'm not going into great detail to explain what he saw in the sculpture," because quantifying that and defining that isn't always easy to do. And I myself have been inspired many times just by posters - I look at posters from the Weimar era, or those done by Ben Shahn in the '30's and '40's, and anti-war posters from the '60's and so on... I guess I was trying to say that there's something about art that we can't always quantify, as to how people act based on what they've seen. For some people, seeing Che Guevara stretched out in death is a powerful image, of somebody who attempted to do something. Again, I would find it difficult to say exactly what that influence is, but it may just be a motivation to do what you think is right. As simple as that.
David: No, I can't take credit for that one. It's a good one. Allan: Yeah, I remember it well ...So if we could talk a bit about your own history with activism, I don't see it mentioned very often that you're the brother of (DOA manager, vintage Georgia Straight writer, and Yippie activist) Ken Lester... If we could talk about your relationship with him for a bit...
David: My brother was a great inspiration to me when I was growing up, because we lived in a household where generally the closest thing to a book was a TV Guide, and my brother had a massive amount of books that he stored at our house, a whole wallful of them. And it would be poetry, fiction, non-fiction, political books, and I had access to these; it was a great opening to the world, to see these books, and I think it profoundly affected how my future turned out - including dipping into his record collection, which showed me people who were not on the radio at that time. He had the MC5, and Phil Ochs, and the Grateful Dead and et cetera. And that defined how I came to proceed in life, I think. I realized that there was a world out there that wasn't reflected back in popular culture. And so that's why I've chosen this sort of path. Ken was an inspiration in that way.
Allan: Was his radicalism also an inspiration?
David: Well, you know, his radicalism in the form of access to radical books and underground newspapers... He worked for the Georgia Straight, so he would often bring home newspapers from across North America and Europe that they had received there, and I got to look at them. So my whole interest in graphic design was started there as well, and of newspapers - a love of the newspaper and newspaper design. It was really pivotal, and I don't know where I would be without those influences.
Allan: About cinema - you mention in the book Orson Welles and Fritz Lang. Do you want to talk about any cinematic influences, or antecedents, on The Listener or in general.
David: I think German expressionism - a lot of the silent films, produced in the Weimar years - were an inspiration. And Fritz Lang was one of them. And film noir, and Hitchcock, and Orson Welles - those are all influences, all their black and white films were things that influenced how I did the book.
Allan: You'd mentioned that The Listener works in ways similar to a movie, and that it can be read in one sitting. You'd commented that that was possible - and I pretty much did exactly that last night, so it can be done.
David: Yeah, that was the intention, but - I always take more time on these things; I can only read so much! ...even though it's mostly pictures.
Allan: One particular page that delighted me, in a way that I can't explain, is the panels where Louise is flexing her feet. Those are really inspired. I've never seen - like, people do that all the time, it's a very nice, natural human moment, but I've never seen it in film, I've never seen it in art. Where did that come from?
David: I like stretchin' my feet, I guess! I guess I think feet are quite expressive. And I haven't seen anybody else do it in quite that way, but I do think they have a great sort of movement to them, and I realized when I started to look at feet that you can do a lot of different poses with how a foot can move! I'd never thought of it before, I sort of stumbled upon it. And also, it's an example of something I tried to do a number of times, in the book: you have people talking, and I wanted to show something else, which is a cinematic thing you see often, where the conversation is taking place, but in fact you're looking somewhere else. I tried to do that a number of times in the book, and I wish I'd done more of it. That was one of those instances.
Allan: It's a potent moment. So. The fact that the book is coming out just prior to a Canadian election - do you want to speak at all about the Canadian election, and your feelings about where Canada is now? David: Well, one of the things about the book is that it's talking about spin doctoring and media manipulation, and that seems to me what elections are like every single time. They're really not about ideas, they're very uninspired, and the politicians seem to live in a universe that is all about image and not about thought or actually doing anything. And there's a hopelessness to it all. So - my book is a cautionary tale about a number of things, and one of them is elections and the idea of having a great deal of skepticism towards elections and how they're handled. Are they really the best way of doing things, in terms of social progress? They can be, I'm sure, and they have been in the past, at times, but clearly we're in a malaise right now, deeper than ever, where it's all about opinion polls and, sorta doing nothing - not really getting to the essence of what people need in a society. It's so sickening, basically, it's painful - a huge waste of energy.
Allan: Well, I think of it as a wonderful opportunity to vote Harper out, but I fear that he's going to end up with a majority. His media campain is so aggressive that it seems almost unstoppable. It's really frightening. David: Yeah. Well, in my book, I've had some people say to me, "Hitler doesn't seem that bad! You see him on the campaign trail, he sounds reasonable, some of these things he's saying." And I did that purposely, because some of the things that Hitler and the Nazis said were actually about things that people wanted solutions to - unemployment, a calming down of the monetary system and a calming down of the violence that was occuring throughout Germany, because of the various paramilitary groups. So Hitler deliberately toned things down, to get votes, and to appear somewhat moderate to the general population. And I wanted to get that across, because I think the same thing is true of Harper, and to a lesser extent the others who are running, in that there is a blandness to it all that is really meant to pull the wool over people's eyes. We can look at all sorts of elections like that - things haven't really changed in the last 80 years, in terms of how campaigns are run. And that was another point that I was trying to get across. Hitler did a campaign that if it was done today, it would seem fine. And the things that he says, if you applied it to what Harper might say, it would sound reasonable. I'm not saying all of it - but there's a lot of bread and butter type issues. So there's a parallel there. David Lester's The Listener is published by Arbeiter Ring Publishing. Watch this blog for more news on a Vancouver release party for The Listener.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
...because the sound of helicopters aside, I must confess that I didn't think once of Apocalypse Now when watching Armadillo. I can see why making reference to that film might seem a useful strategy for getting bums on seats, but it's not entirely apt, since the two films are morally and aesethically very different. On a strictly visual level, I did think of Full Metal Jacket a couple of times, and of a less-appreciated 1989 Vietnam war fictional feature, 84 Charlie Mopic, which was one of the earlier "shakycam" pseudodocumentaries; in fact, there are some shakycam moments in Armadillo, prompting me to reflect that the technique has been so widely used to fake a documentary style that I'm unused to seeing it in real documentaries. Mostly, though - seeking cinematic antecedents - I thought of the documentaries of Frederick Wiseman, noted for assembling documentary footage into a strikingly coherent, provocative whole. That Armadillo does masterfully; as the blurb continues, "Metz’s documentary possesses all the character development and story structure readily associated with a fiction feature. Impeccably edited, Armadillo spins a complex narrative that lures viewers into its world and hooks them on its plot points before locking them in a stranglehold. Expect to leave the theatre rattled and riled."
For an intimate sense of conditions in Afghanistan - which is something every Canadian should want, as long as we have troops committed there - I hesitate not at all to call Armadillo a must-see. It's also a very fresh, exciting documentary, much more gripping and visually compelling than docs usually get, and full of interesting insights into the psychology of contemporary warfare.
In the end, I'm right there in the trenches with the blurb-guy: this film is highly recommended.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Still, I actually had an investment in the outcome last night, myself, since the mood at the gig would have sucked if the Canucks lost. Standing at the Media Club, waiting for the game to be over so the show could go on, with Bev and Femke and Dave R. Bastard of The Sorrow and the Pity watching the TV screens over the bar with me, I actually endeavoured to overcome the nauseatingly dizzying, follow-the-puck camerawork to enter the game (having to ask Bev which team was ours, first. Prior to her her arrival, I'd been contemplating whether it was safe to just ignore the screens and read the book I'd brought). Still, once I knew who to root FOR, it wasn't that hard to take an interest, and when the victory goal was shot in, I confess I actually smiled and gave a (VERY little) involuntary whoop along with everyone else.
I have no idea what the Canucks victory means (I think they still have to play more games before they really "win"), and I'm mostly glad that I can go back to ignoring them, now... but while we're on the subject: yay, team!
Monday, April 25, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Well, folks - it turns out that I can mosh again, sorta. I don't know why. I'm still overweight, still possessed of the same heart and lungs that would feel like bursting if I got too enthusiastic in the pit, jus a few years ago. Suddenly, though - at the secret Bison BC gig the other week and then this past evening at the Rebel Spell - I've actually got a bit of energy and stamina, much to my surprise. Is it due to raised testosterone levels? Improved cardiovascular functioning? A deep need for physicality? ...dunno, but I had great fun getting more physical than I usually do (tho' I was up at the front barrier with the moshers proper crashing into me from behind, not REALLY in the pit - unlike when Bison laid into "Wendigo" the other week).
The best thing about the night, tho', was seeing a fifteen-or-so year old girl mixing it up, wearing a Crass t-shirt and smiling in the middle of the action. It does my heart good to see such things - young'uns still caring about Crass; and pits that aren't so meatheaded that 15 year old girls CAN plunge into them... I felt somethin' like love for the kids there, even the guy who was using me as a prop to launch himself up, grabbing both my shoulders from behind and leaping...
Saturday, April 23, 2011
I liked them better in the days of VHS. There was a period, there, where chains like Rogers Video, for whom I worked in Maple Ridge back in the early 1990's, had quite an odd wealth of cinema accumulated, a huge back catalogue of movies that had been released and distributed everywhere throughout the 1980's, when the industry was new, and continued coming out until, around 1991-95, the situation reached its maximum intensity, the maximum ratio of movies-per-store - a brief peak period, post-Beta and prior to the onset of Laserdisc and DVD, a Golden Age of the video store, if you will, if you don't bother about the obvious inferiority of VHS as a format. There were so many films that I saw on VHS then that one could never find on DVD in the same stores, or even the same neighbourhoods, now. I first saw Cassavetes' Love Streams, Tavernier's La Mort En Direct (Death Watch, albeit in an abbreviated cut), Alex Cox's Straight to Hell, Saul Bass' Phase IV, Bruce McDonald's Highway 61, Dennis Hopper's Out of the Blue and probably at least a few of my first Ingmar Bergman's by renting them from the stores where I worked here. Fassbinder, Herzog, Wenders, Antonioni, and various other European directors I had to go farther afield for, and occasionally do weekend Videomatica runs, but sometimes, I located gems closer to home, like that copy of Where the Green Ants Dream that I rented out of a Coquitlam Safeway; I don't think Videomatica even stocked that title at that time. I'm not saying the stores in the 'burbs were ever as good as the ones in the city - but they weren't without pleasant surprises. In a void of culture like Maple Ridge, even the local Rogers Video was a sort of beacon of potential, a place to go when you felt bored, lonely, or restless - which was most of the time, for me, here; a place associated with potential community experience and social activity, since if you got lucky, you might get into an impassioned conversation with someone who knew and cared about film, often beginning with the words "Hey, have you seen this?" At worst, you could chuckle at what the no-neck types were discussing renting, or indulge yourself in the joy of Deep Browsing.
Things changed with DVD. At least in the suburbs, after the mass-VHS selloffs, the chain stores became more conservative in their selections, doing little or nothing to build up a back catalogue to equal what they had amassed on tape. Maybe they were soured by the experience of having to change formats, maybe the lower price point on DVD didn't make it seem practical to build up a catalogue, maybe the chains were simply never smart enough or passionate enough about movies to do it right - since they were apparently being run by dull-witted, cynical businessmen who just wanted to move as many units possible in a short time and then turn them over, who pandered to the general grazers' impulse to go straight to the New Arrivals and rent something starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unique indy stores like Black Dog, Happy Bats, and the ever-present Videomatica did a great job of building unique libraries, but shops like that simply didn't flourish outside the big city. The few independent stores out here that survived the onset of DVD didn't have a better selection than the chains, they just had fewer copies of the same bestsellers; most of them are gone, now. And, with a few exceptions, the chains no longer HAD films that were released in the 1980's and 1990's on their shelves, only what had come out since the onset of DVD as a format - with a back catalogue that contained a far, far smaller selecton of movies, often indifferently displayed and poorly organized, since it was the received wisdom that people just wanted the New Arrivals, anyhow. It wasn't hard to see, with DVDs being cheap enough that one could often buy the movies one wanted for only two or three times the price of renting them, that the model was doomed to failure, that their failure to creatively engage with a new medium was a formula for eventual obsolescence.
No surprise, then, that a wave of closures of video stores is happening - I gather Happy Bats, one of the best new video stores to open in Vancouver, is gone. Alpha on Commercial Drive is gone. The Reel Bulldog in Gastown is selling off its stock as I write. Rogers has closed off several smaller locations throughout Vancouver (on Yew Street, on Davie near Denman); larger locations are coping, but for how much longer? I'm not sure if Blockbuster has closed any locations yet, since they were never as ubiquitous as Rogers, but it can't be far off, and last I checked, there was a massive "discount PV" sale of Blockbuster stock downstairs at Harbour Centre. Often, these days, when I go to the Maple Ridge Rogers, the staff outnumber the customers; sometimes I'm the only person there, and often, after an hours' browse, devoted cinephile that I am, I can find nothing at all that interests me. Adding Netflix and illegal downloading (and yet another format change to Blu-Ray) to the picture, where it was already in cinephiles interest to just buy the DVDs they really valued, rather than wasting money renting them, and it's really a wonder such stores have held out as long as they have, perhaps buoyed by video game rentals and cellphone sales. Soon all but the best will perish.
In the short term, at least on one level, it's great for me. I'm not a huge fan of either stealing or streaming; I've done a bit of both in my day, but there are always glitches - from variable quality to the impossibility of finding certain titles on torrent sites to the general absence of extras to the problems that result from my not being that much of a tech geek (I have no clue how to attach a subtitle file to an AVI that comes without one, for instance; and - with a computer and TV in different rooms, I'm not even sure how I'd go about watching movies on Netflix; I sure won't be watching them on my computer). All things considered, I'm quite happy to spend $3-6 or so on a used DVD (because increasingly that's the price I've been paying), if it's something I'm excited by - at least I'll get something that I know works. The hunt appeals to the scavenger side of me, too, something deeply ingrained that I doubt I will ever lose: the desire to get out there and search for weird culture in unlikely places. Even when I lived a few blocks down from Videomatica, it was more fun to TRY to find something good at the local Rogers than to simply go to a store that had quality cinema everywhere (that Rogers has since closed, by the way). And besides - then as now - in Maple Ridge, there's not a lot else to do; stopping in at the local Rogers and scouring the PV bin is just one of the stations of my cross here (which also includes four thrift stores and a Zellers that sometimes gets in odd DVD stock on the cheap; the staff have sometimes taken me for a potential shoplifter, since they don't understand the frequency with which I turn up, glance over the discount display to see if anything has been added, then walk away). The Rogers has a two-for-one PV sale ongoing, actually, since the vast majority of used DVDs simply don't sell anymore; my last purchase there included both Mesrine movies (one of which, I was told, had never rented - ever!), Bela Tarr's The Man from London, and the documentary Burma VJ - all for under $30. Later today, good scavenger that I am, I'll be at the Reel Bulldog in Gastown, happily perusing the remaining stock and saying goodbye, at least psychically, to the bulldog.
All the same, it's kind of sad. The closure of video stores is one less place where people can go, one less place where they can pass on knowledge face-to-face. Say what you will about the advantages of the new technology - it's bloody ISOLATING sitting in front of a computer screen all the time. Especially in smaller towns, especially for people who LACK things like high speed internet 24 hours a day, life is going to get a lot lonelier without anywhere to fucking GO. And not that I ever met a future girlfriend in a video store - at least there was that potential; I mean, it seemed a more appealing option than hoping to meet someone at a suburban bar. Where will sex-and-love-starved suburban film geeks go NOW, I wonder?
The ongoing death of a video store - as community hub, as library, as cultural exchange matrix - is a sad, sad thing. I can't be the only one that grieves the loss.
(Long live Videomatica! Long live Black Dog! Long live... whoever is left...).
Friday, April 22, 2011
By the way, Iggy has since ceased stage diving, we gather...
Mike Watt: Sidemousin’ the Stooges (2007)
By Allan MacInnis
I dunno how it is for you, but for me, the Stooges recruiting Mike Watt to tour with them is like God Himself manifesting His Divine Presence and announcing publicly so there can be no further debate that the deities of a relatively neglected cult (that I happen to belong to) are in fact the correct ones, and that everyone else must heretofore pay heed. As attentive Nerve readers will know, tho’, when I saw the Stooges in Seattle a few months ago, I couldn’t escape my sense of disbelief long enough to really enter the experience: watching a 60 year old Iggy Pop in total command and fine physical form bellowing, with complete conviction, “Do you feel it when you FUCK me?” and leaping, writhing, into the audience fit far enough outside the framework of consensus reality that I might as well have seen a fuckin’ UFO. Watt, rapturously workin’ the bass, was really all I could grok – though the audience, mostly in their 20s, didn’t seem to be havin’ such a hard time of things.
“You’ve gotta give a lot of credit to young people, for bein’ that open-minded, and not sayin’ ‘Hey, you fuckin’ old shit!’” Watt says by phone. “Like, when I was a teenager, you wouldn’t listen to music five years old. So I give a lot of credit! I think it’s a trip – ‘cos rock and roll was always marketed on a youth thing – to see a man 60 years old stage diving. He invented the stage dive and he’s still doin’ it. I think – fuck the marketing, this guy has got it in his blood. And you know what, maybe you’ll be 60 one day – maybe. And it just gets rid of all those fuckin’ phony things that don’t have anything to do with anything except sellin’ you shit. So a lot of respect to the audiences – to the cats watchin’ Stooges.”
Didn’t Iggy seem kind of otherworldly – a God descended – even to Watt, though?
“They’re ‘60’s guys,” Watt replies. “I think the whole country, everything was in a different place. My Missingmen’s drummer Raoul is 20 years younger than me, and I’m only 10 years younger than Iggy, but I’m much closer to Raoul. Things changed after punk. I can even rap with a teenager at a Warped Tour gig and be closer than to these guys, because it was a different scene. They’re very interesting gentlemen, though” – having primarily experienced Iggy via his onstage persona, I would never have thought of him as an “interesting gentleman,” but I have no doubt it’s true – “and it’s one of the only times when I’ve played the little brother, y’know? Suddenly I’m the youngest guy in the band – I mean that never fuckin’ happens. I mean, in all senses, I’m the little brother, even though I’ve done tons of gigs, probably more than, y’know? It’s just different.”
Watt is pleased when I tell him he seemed totally in-the-zone when I saw him onstage. It amused me a bit, in fact, because his tour diaries – which, if you’ll pardon me, are a hoot to read – make him seem like he’s constantly worryin’ he’ll slip up. “But there’s a huge legacy. I don’t think there’d be a punk scene without the Stooges, so that weighs on me!” Watt gives an understated little laugh.
The really important question, though – and God help me if this sounds like the sort of question a reporter for a supermarket tabloid might ask: why wasn’t Watt allowed to wear flannel when performing? “I think it’s that Ig wants me to look like I’m with them. Although, you know, I got the idea (of flannel) from John Fogerty; it’s not really my idea. I just thought he had neatest rock shirts. I didn’t know they were farmer’s shirts! I grew up in Navy housing” – Watt’s Dad was in the military, which informs the theme of his second solo CD, Contemplating the Engine Room – “so I didn’t really understand so much about it. But now – at the beginning of the year, (Iggy) called me up and said ‘Mike, I got an idea, what about jumpsuits, boilersuits? So that’s what I’ve been wearing, this year. And he says, ‘Get a blue one, for that nautical look.’ So that’s what I wore in Seattle, was a boilersuit.” I told Watt it looked really hot, and I think he understood that I meant hot-and-sweaty, not hot-and-sexy. “It was,” Watt replied, “But then I was thinkin’ of Townshend in them white ones during the Woodstock days, so, y’know... Me and D. Boon were way into Townshend, so that’s cool.”
“You know, to let go for something like that, it’s no big deal. I get my way in my own bands, you know, so if I have to wear different clothes, it’s okay, it’s no real affront to me. You’re trying to help the guy in his thing – the same thing I’m asking of my guys, like, Tom and Raoul, now, with the Missingmen.” Watt seems amiable. “You can’t learn everything, always bein’ the boss, and probably the same with bein’ a sidemouse, but there’s important lessons to each that you can learn only by doin’ those different gigs, you know?”
A couple of Vancouver bands get mentioned in our talk. Watt on Nomeansno: “Excellent band, the Wright brothers... I have a lot of respect for that band, man, I love that band. In the old days, I thought them and a Dutch band called the Ex were like, the closest to Minutemen.” Watt shares with Nomeansno bassist Rob Wright a love for James Joyce’s Ulysses, which fans more literate than I will already have seen in his lyrics. “There’s like ten songs on Double Nickels that are totally from Ulysses,” Watt says. “There’s one called ‘June 16th,’ which is Bloomsday, when it happens. But there’s all kinds of it, like, ‘The World According to Nouns,’ and ‘My Heart and the Real World’ and ‘It’s Expected I’m Gone,’ ‘Retreat,’ “The Big Foist” – there’s just a lot of ‘em. That book was really profound on me. And then I read it again in my 40’s and it was way different, but just as strong. Just different – which is a trip, because the words didn’t change. Obviously I did.”
Watt got to play the Starfish Room with Rob Wright, before that venue was levelled. “I think I done 61 tours now. It was one of those. I played there three or four times and one of them was with Mr. Rob Wright, opening up with his solo ‘Mister Wrong’ set. It was righteous.” Watt is also a fan of DOA: “Me and D. Boon loved that band – Joey Shithead – [imitates Shithead and sings]: ‘You’re fucked up Ronnie!’ Great, great songs – great band – great energy on that level. It’s like, ‘You know what’s on my mind? I’m gonna let you know,’ y’know? ‘How is the power bein’ divvied up?’”
I ask Watt if he feels that punk has lost a lot of its edge since the old days. “I think part of it came from being little and stomped down. It was not a popular thing, so a lot of self-reliance was built up, and a lot of questioning: ‘Why are things the way they are?’ Now you got a good lookin’ young man with tattoos and he’s a star – it’s hard for him to write songs about that.” Watt laughs, then archly adds, “You know, unless there’s a market for it.”
Back when Watt was on Columbia, the label would call him in sometimes as a coach for their younger bands. “They wanted me to talk to a lot of them about touring, because man, they don’t come from the old punk scene. Everyone wants to be stars and be fuckin’ catered too, you know? You hear them cry later about bein’ puppets and shit, but you don’t see ‘em tyin’ on the strings! Sure, I’ll talk to them, but they don’t want to hear it, because there’s all this myth... See, to us, the music was the big thing. Everything else was secondary. It’s hard to fuckin’ fire people up with that - you gotta get kinda bit by the bug, I don’t know. Shit, I’ve tried to talk people blue in the face about it. Some of ‘em are born with this incredible talent – they don’t have to keep workin’ on it, like a thug like me. They’re born with it and stuff, but they just don’t have this fire, I don’t know. Maybe it comes too easily, maybe that’s the problem.”
Future projects by Watt will include a third opera, with compositions based on the weird little creatures one sees in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. “I found out that those things were all symbolic of proverbs and shit – but like, 500 year old Dutch, Flemish, and I don’t know any of that, so I made up my own. But basically – it’s like there was a mirror in my head and it broke up into a bunch of pieces. So there’s 39 of them. In some ways, it’s me goin’ back to the old days, ‘cos they’re little songs.” The recording will be the first Watt’s new unit, the Missingmen. “Watson, he’s from Slovenly, he’s from a late ‘80s SST band, and so he’s kind of the middle ground, a connection, and Raoul’s the younger man from hardcore, gettin’ taught this strange music from this strange man... I haven’t had time to work with them yet, but after Stooges stop in September, I’m gonna have time, and teach it to them, and tour it first and then record it.”
Also upcoming: Watt will be joined by Nels Cline, Petra Haden, and Chad Smith for a cover version of the Blue Oyster Cult’s “Burnin’ for You,” on the Guilt by Association compilation of cover tunes. The song is NOT the BOC’s finest moment (“it’s, like, kind of their Journey period,” Watt quips.) Still, it has lyrics by Richard Meltzer, and Watt is a huge fan, as am I. Homework: go read Meltzer’s essay on the Minutemen in A Whore Just Like the Rest – the single best title ever given to a book of rock writing – and while you’re at it, if you want to piss yourself laughing, read his essay on Springsteen, too, “One Commie Wrong about Bruce.”
Speaking of Meltzer, who currently resides in Portland, another future project will be a recording with him entitled Spielgusher. “He gave me 53 spoken word pieces and I’m puttin’ music to’em. Ten of ‘em are actual songs he wrote when he was gonna collaborate with the Minutemen, but we didn’t get to record with him – D. Boon had the fuckin’ lyrics in the fuckin’ van ride he got killed on. Yeah. So Richard did those ten and 43 others, so there’s 53 little spiels and I’m puttin’ music behind it, and to me, y’know, it’s a tribute to Richard, because I love the man much, and to get to collaborate with him – to be a part of the same piece of art, man – to me, it’s one of the biggest things ever in your life.”
I’ll be reading from my upcoming novel, Up & Down on the Downtown Eastside, which is due in July. I just can’t seem to stay away from that Downtown Eastside...
The title for my new book is a play on words describing both the most popular hard drugs on the DTES and the rise and fall of two opposing drug lords on which the story is based.
Any plans for the future?
In 2012, if all goes well, GFY Press will be launching a biographical book about Canadian rock venues entitled Dive Bars: Rock & Roll Venues From A to Z.
What pisses you off, lately?
The idea that Stephen Harper could get a majority government not only pisses me off, it fill me with terror. Stevie is a very bad man and I do not wish to see what he will do if given total access to the public coffers.
What's makes you happy?
I am happy to spend my days writing rather than working my ass off on some damp construction site or languishing on the welfare rolls. Of all possible scenarios, my life today is much better than I deserve.
And finally, what are you listening to?
I’m listening to the same old punk noise I listened to 30 years ago, with some new Motorhead, The Rebel Spell, Richard Duguay, and Street Dogs thrown into the mix.
Seeya at the show.
Chris Walter reading at the Cobalt, photo by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
So send them an email, make sure you're covered, lest you be dinged five bucks! Spread the word!
Monday, April 18, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
There's a delightful documentary that all music fans need to see, called I Need That Record!: The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store. It paints a rather grim picture of the state of the American record store, from a few years back, when a lot of stores in the US were closing in the wake of the economic meltdown (from which, parenthetically, Canada was largely spared due to our separate and different banking system, not the economic policies of the Harper government, which, if it had its druthers, would have chained us to our neocon/ deregulatory/ piratization-lovin' southern neighbours long ago; it is a fuckin' offensive JOKE that the Conservatives want to paint themselves as our economic saviours in their current campaign - one which Canadians will hopefully see through). Interview subjects (in I Need That Record!) range from the obvious and essential (Thurston Moore, Ian Mackaye, Mike Watt), the somewhat inspired (a testy but delightful Glenn Branca) to the utterly brilliant - like Noam Chomsky, who draws parallels between the state of music sales (indy stores vs. big boxes) with the historical situation, from his own memory, of the days of the Mom'n'Pop grocery store, waxing anecdotal about the role of such stores in maintaining a sense of neighbourhood community, long lost in the supermarket. Throughout, the film is absolutely saturated with love for "record store culture," filled with warm stories of the importance of record stores in music fans' development (and daily life). It's perhaps just a wee bit dated, taking in the advent of file-sharing and retaliatory record industry lawsuits, but not the near-total death of the CD as a saleable item or the resurgence of vinyl seen in the last couple of years... but this in itself is interesting, since it shows us how fast things have been changing...
Most interesting, though, for me, is the contrast between the picture painted in the 'States - where so many community-lifeblood record stores have apparently closed - and the one in Vancouver (which isn't even mentioned in the film), because anyone from this town who sees this movie will come out of it amazed at how WELL this city is doing, record-store wise. It's easy to take where you're from for granted, but - honestly, folks, until I saw this film, I never realized we had it so good. Where many towns in the US are lucky to be left with one or two record stores, our city - omitting thrift stores, the HMV big box, the guys with the cool tables at the flea market, the used record conventions, or stores like Carson Books and Records or Albion Books that have record selections, but also sell other things - OUR CITY boasts at least thirteen independent shops primarily oriented to the sale of music, each with vinyl selections: Audiopile, Beatstreet, Dandelion, Highlife World Music, Neptoon, Otis Music, Red Cat Records, Scrape Records, Scratch Records, Sikora's Classical, Vinyl Records, Zoo Zhop, and Zulu. (And fuck, for all I know, I've forgotten a couple: sorry, if so!). Online searches further reveal more distant places I've never even heard of, like Krazy Bob's, out in Langley; or others that I'd thought had gone out of business, but had merely changed address (Apollo Music, now at 2260 Tyner in Port Coquitlam!). If there are other cities in North America that are doing better, in terms of sheer quantity of vinyl, I'd love to know about it (a friend assures me that Austin, Texas, hotbed of funky American culture, has all of two surviving shops).
Having realized that Vancouver is so well-off, vinyl-wise, has got me all excited to celebrate Record Store Day here - an event which I almost completely ignored last year, picking up a few of those special releases like the Fela Kuti 10" and the two Joe Strummer reissues only after the initial hubbub had faded (by the way, there's still some o' those Fela 10" kicking around Audiopile, and those Strummers seem to be everywhere still, even tho' Global A-Go-Go is arguably Strummer's greatest musical achievement, at least in terms of expressing his vision of a true "world" musical culture... maybe it wasn't actually a limited edition, tho'?). JJ of (new vinyl retailer and metal specialists) Scrape Records opined that since Record Store Day is primarily keyed to the US and UK markets, a lot of special releases don't even make it to Canada, which is sometimes frustrating (he's hoping the store will get the new, one-sided Opeth 7" and the Mastodon/ ZZ Top split of "Just Got Paid," which is a pretty inspired idea for a single. I mean, I had the Rapeman cover of that song... but Mastodon?). Even if not all the Record Store Day records make it here, there's a lot going on, throughout the day. Many stores will have sales, and many of the larger ones will have free in-stores. Free in-stores, you say? Yep. Red Cat, nicely settled into their expansive new location (and still the proud owners of the coolest new neon sign in the city, above), will have music starting at 1:00, with performances by Blind Horses, Dead Ghosts, Mode Moderne, Hard Feelings, Loscil (w. Jason Zumpano) and, at 6:00, terrific local freeform psych-folk artists Von Bingen, who have a recent vinyl release of their own. Zulu - whose recent Lou Barlow in-store kicked heavy ass on the Sebadoh gig later that night! - will be hosting evening performances by Kelowna's Yukon Blonde and No Gold (see poster, above).
Scratch Records will have a whole afternoon's worth of free performances - see the blackboard photo! - at the adjoining Interurban Gallery, and Keith tells me he'll be hauling in a ton of stuff from his garage (tho' not necessarily garage rock...) to sell on the cheap, with all regular stock at 30% off (does no one else but me care that he still has a few copies of Rocket Redux, by Rocket From the Tombs, on sale on vinyl?). Free shows will last until the evening, when, starting at 10, there'll be a paid record release gig for the B-Lines, energetic pop-punk spazzes fronted by Scratch manager Ryan Dyck, with Sex Church and Idle Times opening.
Ryan says of the new B-Lines record: "It took us a long time to get it done, but we're really happy with how it turned out - it sounds a lot heavier than our first 7 inch, but not in annoying cheesy hardcore way." It can be bought online here; see the B-Lines play at the last show at the previous incarnation of the Cobalt, here).
If you're like me, however - a mere out-of-towner without a car who barely knows a lot of these bands and just wants to pick a cool location to settle down and shop/listen to live music for the whole day, with apologies to all the stores I love that I mentioned above, and incitements to all of you to pick the location that most appeals to your musical needs, regardless of what I am about to say below... THIS year (IMHO), you prolly want to check out Neptoon, who are also celebrating their 30th anniversary, making them (by a narrow margin) the oldest independent record dealer in Vancouver. They've got the most bands scheduled (muthafuckin' fourteen of 'em!) of anyone in the city, and from the looks of the boxes of records that store manager Ben Frith was opening when I spoke to him on Monday, they may well have the largest selection of special releases. Ben tells me that the store received all fifteen out of the fifteen copies of the one record he ordered that *I* am most excited by - I won't tell you which, lest I work against myself, since there are only 1000 of them out there! And the bands playing....
(Left, above: Gnash Rambler bassist Regina Michaelis peruses a record at Carson Books and Records, 3425 W. Broadway, photo by Allan MacInnis. That store still has a LOT of cool blues and folk titles that the owner bought off a collector last year - including some that aren't priced yet! I mean... I scored some rare Charley Patton and Gary Davis stuff and the 10" of "Mole in the Ground" by Bascam Lamar Lunsford there... That Leadbelly up there is at Tim's, too... jes' saying).
Vancouver mod revivalists The Tranzmitors play the Neptoon in-store, for instance - and it's always an amazing live show from them, they are one sincerely energetic rock band. Neptoon recording artists The Beladeans, also with a fun, passionate new CD out, will play. Stonesy local blues rockers The Pool Hall Gospel, with St. Adrian Mack on drums, will perform. (Former Nerve Magazine fans, writers, and so forth will also want to be there for Bleeding Horse Express, which also boasts a familiar face). Former Black Flag singer Ron Reyes will have his new band, Piggy, in the lineup, fronted by (Pointed Sticks' bassist) Tony Bardach's daughter, Alexa, and also featuring Lisafurr Lloyd (like Alexa, of the East Vamps) and two members (one present, one ex) of the Little Guitar Army on keyboards on drums (yes, folks - Doug Smith has left the LGA!). Garage rockers The Fiends play, too! The remaining list is pretty huge - including Yung Mums, Blondewich, Captain Dust, Red Cedar, Petroleum Bi-Product, Meandrics, The Excitations, Hospital Blonde, and the DB Buxton band - a list so long it overwhelms my desire to track down Myspace links for each; you can find more info, including links for most of the bands, on the Neptoon site. Music starts at 11AM, doors at 10, and I'll be lining up at 9 to guarantee a shot at my own coveted special releases and a reasonable view...
As for specific record store day releases, Ben, while flipping through the vinyl - including exclusive Arthur Russell wax ("last year's Arthur Russell was one of the first things to fly off the shelf") and more - described one particularly fun project from the band Fucked Up, pictured below -
Ben holds up the Fucked Up release, photo by Allan MacInnis
"The way it was kinda described to me is that their new album coming up is a concept album based on all these bands that they made up. So they went and actually recorded what those bands would sound like. They've got all kinds of guests on there - A.C. Newman is a guest, Danko Jones does one of the songs... It's a pretty wild looking album - it doesn't say anywhere that it's Fucked Up, and it looks like a South American compilation thing or something! I'm really curious about it - it looks pretty cool." Ben informs me that there's 145 different releases on order - from the Whore Moaning EP to the Bad Brains' "Pay To Cum" 7" reissue. "It's ridiculous - it should be pretty intense!"
There are also a bunch of really cool releases on the Neptoon label that one might do well to note, though they're not Record Store Day specials. My buddy Blake had pointed out - since he and I share connections to Maple Ridge - that a terrific garage rock band was founded here (when it was still called Haney, back in 1965 - three years before I was born!). Not all of the Northwest Company's singles have been ripped for Youtube, but "Hard to Cry" has; it, "Get Away from it All," and "Eight Hour Day" all appear on the 2008 History of Vancouver Rock Vol. 4 compilation that Neptoon put out, also featuring local legends like Mock Duck and The (pre-Chilliwack) Collectors - a comp that is out of print, now, I believe, but still available at the shop in both CD and vinyl formats. For those who want more, however, there's actually a full CD devoted to the Northwest Company, also on Neptoon. There's even another former Maple Ridge band that have been the subject of a reissue by Neptoon, which Neptoon founder Rob Frith pointed out to me - a band I'd never heard of previously, called The Nocturnals!
"It's probably my favourite reissue we did," Rob tells me, plucking it from the shelf and passing it over. "I'd been bugging them for years, because - about 25 years ago, they had a reunion party at their house; and I'd put out some of their stuff on a compilation before, and so they invited myself and some friends to this party, where they played all this unreleased stuff that they had on tape. And it sounded unbelievable, it sounded so good! I was like - 'why didn't somebody release it?' And they had books and books of photos, and 8mm films of the band, all this stuff, and I thought - 'man, I've never seen a band that was so organized, and kept all this stuff, had it archived." (They even had their own van, too!) "Anyways, every five years, I'd phone them up and said, we ought to do this compilation, you've got all this stuff! So one day I get a call, saying, 'We have a reunion concert at the end of the month and I want to put the CD out.' I said, 'Well, gee, that doesn't give me a lot of time, if you want me to do it,' but we put the whole thing together in less than a month, including all their eight millimeter films - transferring them and editing them and putting a DVD in as well. I got the whole band into the studio - Don Xaliman's studio, actually - and I had them do a commentary over the footage, since it's all silent. So that's on there as well. I was pretty happy about that!"
Speaking of Don Xaliman, what's the link between Neptoon and his band, the (Hawkwind-related local prog/psych/ art-rock band) the Melodic Energy Commission (two-thirds of whom I speak to here)? The CD versions of their uber-rare privately pressed first two albums, Stranger in Mystery and Migration of the Snails ("what a great record - I still play that record," Rob says) turn up at Neptoon more than elsewhere. "I know them - my wife actually played in a band with the Theremin player, George McDonald. They were in a band in the late '60's together," the name of which Rob didn't recall at the time. (This was also in Maple Ridge, too, by the way; and no, that band never recorded). Rob got to know the band separately from his wife, however. "There was a connection, and I think I brought the album home and my wife says - 'That's George McDonald!'"
Neptoon also has connections with bill bissett, whose Mandan Massacre CD also turns up at Neptoon more than elsewhere, and local avant garde jazz/ visual arts legend (and memoirist) Al Neil, whose fucked up but fascinating Boot and Fog - featuring a version of "Over the Rainbow" that evokes nothing so much as a massive and not entirely benign drug experience - is constantly in stock, sealed, with the 7" inside. "One of the fellows who used to work here, one of his uncles played with Al Neil," Rob explains, "Plus I know Greg Simpson, the drummer - he played with Al Neil. We sorta know these guys, and because we know them, they bring their records here." Neptoon even has connections with the New Creation, since Rob Frith was one of the people Ty Scammell spun his original vinyl copy of Troubled for; plus Chris Towers of that band watches Rockinitis, the cable-access TV show that Rob is a regular guest on, which runs Monday and Tuesday nights on Shaw. "My favourite show is probably the Zombies show," Rob tells me, when topics turn to Rockinitis. "We did a show about them, and interviewed the singer and got him to do an ID for us, saying, 'you're watching Rob and Michael on Rockinitis.' I did the same thing with the Yardbirds, which hasn't played yet - I interviewed the drummer, Jim McCarty. He's the original drummer, he's like the constant through the whole thing."
Andrew WK and Nardwuar at a Neptoon instore a couple o' years ago, photo Bev Davies, not to be reused without permission!
Anyhow, happy 30th year, Neptoon! (There's lots else I won't be getting to, including the Poppy Family connection, other Neptoon releases and future plans... you'll just have to research it yourself, dear readers). And as for my readers - with all this free stuff going on, and so many cool records descending from Record Store Heaven onto our very healthy, very rich vinyl community, there's no reason for ANYONE who loves music in THIS city to stay home and not have fun on Saturday. Even if you're broke, folks - firm up your will not to buy anything and go see some free live shows! We live in a blessed environment, for music freaks, and this Saturday is a great time to get out there and show your appreciation!
Happy Record Store Day, Vancouver!