Friday, May 27, 2016

Reelin' In The Years: Political Accounting

(Forgive me, D&W)

Some numbers:

I've been around the sun 50 times.

For 20 of those trips, the person occupying the Oval Office has had one of two last names: Bush or Clinton.

That accounts for nearly half my life, and the bulk of my adult life.

Four years ago the MSM suggested the 2016 Presidential race would likely be between a Bush and a Clinton -- with a result that would up the total years of B-or-C occupancy to at least 24. A quarter century, in other words.

Neither party seemed to think anything was amiss about this possibility.

It surprises me not at all that Trump, bloviating his way into this scene, felt to many like a breath of fresh air.

It astounds me that Dems think Clinton is their best match against this guy. The wise (or desperate) among us urge voters to consider the "Three Cs" -- competence, character, conviction -- when backing a candidate. Democrats seem to think meagre "competence" will sway voters away from the candidate who possesses none of the above.

Alright, other, better commentary: Matt Taibi explains why young voters distrust Clinton. To that I would only add that if younger voters personally identify with anyone from the Clinton years in office, it's probably Monica Lewinsky.

Trump took a crack at making Scotland great again -- with controversial results.

Nuffadat -- happy thoughts, happy thoughts...

Friday, May 20, 2016

Return To The Rock Show

I awoke yesterday with a need for distraction. I checked concert listings, then consulted That On-Line Admissions Gateway Which Shall Not Be Named. There was still room for me, it seemed. I hit "Buy Tickets," and my evening was booked.

"This is not my beautiful house! This is not my beautiful wife!"

Corrosion of Conformity, Clutch and Lamb of God at TD Echo Beach, Toronto - May 19, 2016

I missed all but the final three numbers of the Corrosion of Conformity set. Traffic into town was abysmal  which I had anticipated. But I had not accounted for the overabundance of Lakeshore Avenue construction which chokes traffic flow into a single lane, nor the masses of basketball fans flocking to "Jurassic Park" to collectively experience the gradual extinction of their playoff hopes.

And I'd forgotten what every out-of-town parent of school-age children learns through bitter experience  Ontario Place is the absolute worst Toronto destination to get to. It couldn't be more challenging if they'd built it under water.

After bending over a barrel to pay for my parking spot, I finally arrived at this new-to-me venue  admittedly with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. My first impression? Outdoor stage, fleets of porta-potties, all parked next to the tepid grandeur of industrial Lake Ontario  what's not to love? Bonus points  the foundation of sand is not just a convenience for attenders needing some place to extinguish their various smoking materials, it also aids fogies hampered with plantar fasciitis.

I hobbled close to the stage and picked up the final notes of CoC's set.

Leafs fan, joyously unburdened of playoff dreams.

I wish I'd caught more of these guys. They add a pleasant layer of Sabbath-sludge atop Molly Hatchet-style anthems and riffs. Check 'em out.

Next was the act I'd come to see: Clutch.

No need for a smoke machine out here.
Clutch kicks out goofy, unfussy rock 'n' roll. It's super-infectious tuneage, tarted up with the sort of hooks a midlife newcomer to guitar finds aspirational. I've been giving their last two albums  Earth Rocker and Psychic Warfare  a great deal of play.

Fallon's got a cowbell: must be 'DC Sound Attack!'
Finally we came to the headline act, Lamb of God. Considering the gear their roadies schlepped on-stage, I was mightily impressed they kicked off on time. I readied my phone for the opening number, and . . .
Wups. A little too close to the stage...
I retreated to a safer distance.

...still too close...
Finally . . .

Four numbers in I figured I'd caught the gist of their outrage, and decided to call it a night.

Linking the first two bands  both of whom have been labelled "stoner rock"  with LoG's listener-friendly thrash struck me as odd, though not egregious. Listening to between-set chatter, I got the impression the kids enjoyed the warm-up. The preponderance of T-shirts indicated, however, that they were not going to be sated until they got their fill of double-bass fills  strictly the purview of LoG this night.

They're happy; I'm happy  mostly. Truth be told, I went out hoping this concert might somehow magically repeat itself, just for me. Didn't happen, but I'm not complaining  I've got my garden-watering T-shirt.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

RIP, Darwyn Cooke

What shocking, rotten news.

If the comic was Cooke's, I gave it my attention. His style had its own ribald life force, pleasantly frisky, and imbued with a sense of sass and joy entirely Cooke's own.

Teen Titans, rockin' it.
I can't think of another working comics artist (still very much a boys' club) who loved women the way he did -- the way women love to be loved, I daresay.

Function, capitalizing on Form: Cooke's Catsuit.

Cooke's Wonder Woman was the only Wonder Woman I ever cared for (she towers over the boys, even Soop).

I didn't blog about everything of his I read -- but he certainly got me to the keyboard, with greater frequency than even Frank Miller. Speaking of whom, Cooke's recent tribute to Miller makes me wish they'd colluded.

I am going to miss him something fierce.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Randy Craig Wolfe Trust v. Led Zeppelin

Interesting times, no?

If you click on the above link, midway through the piece is a chart of the various infringement and potential infringement suits courted by Page and Plant, back in the day. I can certainly understand ageing bluesmen getting peevish and recruiting lawyers to correct the younger band's* cavalier attitude toward attribution and wholesale appropriation. But this is something else. We're talking about a chord progression.

It's curious to consider the ramifications should the Trust win the suit. What's to stop, say, Chuck Berry's people from suing AC/DC for 95% of the songs they've committed to record -- the ones reliant on the "Johnny B. Goode" half-boogie structure? Why not also demand recompense for Angus Young's gimped-up appropriation of Berry's famous duckwalk?

Or some other signature move? California, in action.
Musicians "steal" riffs and progressions from each other all the time. The best ones actually improve what they've "stolen." I've zero familiarity with Randy "California" Wolfe and his catalogue but now I'm giving it a close listen. He seems to have carved out his own ouevre (wiki, obit), which I'm keen to discover. But I'm also wondering -- what's there that he might have "borrowed"?

Or, more likely, their label's lawyers'.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Spring Cleaning Soundtrack, '16

And as you sweep the room
Imagine that the broom
Is someone that you love and soon
You'll find you're dancing to the tune
                  - "Whistle While You Work"
My first exposure to NRBQ was on Stay Awake, Hal Willner's 1988 oddball salute to the musical legacy of Disney Studios. NRBQ covered "Whistle While You Work," retaining and capitalizing on its upbeat architecture, while throwing in a few stalls and dissonant whistles to please the listeners who bought the package for the smirks and sneers.*

I loved it -- love it still. It's bright, catchy, celebratory, delightful. At the time and the age I was at, it took very little enticement to dance around my shabby apartment, happily imagining the broom was the latest gal to turn my head.

And so it is that, nearly 30 years later, as I roll up my sleeves for spring cleaning, I find myself reaching for NRBQ's Brass Tacks (2014).

The qualities from '88 are all there -- the assured musicianship, the cheeriness, the humour, the (at times) lacerating intelligence. Just one example of the latter: even semi-aware listeners of "I'd Like To Know" -- a sweet, low-key Louvin Brothers style of serenade -- can't help but register a growing awareness that the one being serenaded is almost certainly reaching for her-or-his phone by the third verse, and Googling "How to obtain a restraining order."

But the album and the band are finally devoted, not to irony and knowing winks, but sheer delight -- an effect I can appreciate any time, but especially this particular spring.

Unexpected discovery of the Spring:

      Oz Noy, Who Gives A Funk.

Not sure how I stumbled across this, but if (like me) you've never heard of this guy, you've almost certainly heard him play with one of your favourite performers. The disc credits are a who's who -- and if you can't wait for Mr. Noy to click his ball-point and sign and send you a CD then page over to your preferred digital warehouse and commit a few sheckels for primo blues- and funk-based delight.

I finally watched the Coen Bros' Inside Llewyn Davis. I get that there are moviegoers who simply can't enjoy watching the bros play cat-and-mouse with yet another too-clever-by-half schlemiel -- but I am not one of those people. I will admit to much laughter, even as I understood I was watching the unraveling of a kid whose life had been previously untouched by grief.

Which one's the cat?
The Coens do a terrific job of communicating just how infectious a music scene can be -- O Brother (and its subsequent best-selling soundtrack) capitalized on this, and Llewyn does it also. It sure ain't glamorous -- those precious moments of bliss that occur in performance are heavily bracketed by the unnecessarily adolescent psycho-dramas the characters generate. And yet the bliss occurs.

Hey, it's May the Fourth! Here's a clip, starring two recent alumni from Star Wars, singing next to Justin Timberlake. Check out the non-verbal cues -- Llewyn's disbelief at the rubbish he's being paid to perform, followed by the realization he's just stepped in it with said rubbish's creator, the uncertainty that generates in them both -- and then the final surrendering to the song. Sure, it's a farcically bad novelty tune. But it's fun!

Don't forget about delight, y'all.

*Supplied by Ringo Starr and Tom Waits, respectively -- among others.

Friday, April 29, 2016

College Application

I've been helping the elder daughter with her college application. And I have to say: I find it rather gratifying to see that, even with all the giant leaps in technological interactivity, admissions bureaucracy remains as bafflingly arcane and in need of direct human-to-human communication as it did in my day.

Much -- much -- has changed, of course. As late as 1989, getting admissions applications ready was a matter of physically pulling your file from a filing cabinet and assuring not just the admissions officers but yourself that the requisite paperwork had been satisfactorily completed and received.

Nearly the entire process is digital, by now. However, the concern remains the same -- and so the applicant and the officer once again "pull up your file," only this time on a screen. And face-to-face gets things done faster and with greater assurance than p2p, or over the phone.

"Hit 'Enter'! Again, again!"
For the kid, it's just an early lesson in how post-secondary works. Get used to being the final word in Quality Control -- 'cos that's just how it's going to be, for the rest of your life.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Vintage Whisky, 2014

2014 -- I wrestled with my inner Pagan. In fact, I committed so much public energy to the matter, I felt compelled to apologise. It's still fresh to me, so the matter gets its own category.

Prajer's Paganism:

  • Good Writers Being Good People -- okay, just one, really: Carol Shields
  • My reaction to a reaction to the terrorist attack in Ottawa




Friday, April 22, 2016


"You're gonna miss me....'
"I'm done performing," she said. "I'm going to take my best crack at song-writing, and if that doesn't get traction in the next 18 months, I'll go into real estate."

She was in her early 20s, and already a stand-out blues singer. I was a pup, and quite smitten, but in this early conversation she revealed an unsettling, steely resolve toward life's difficulties -- steelier than that of yours truly, by quite a margin. Several health episodes left her hearing badly on the wane, so she was finished with the stage. As for the song-writing . . .

"You write a song that's good enough, anybody can sing it and sound brilliant," was her take. Case in point (she said): Cyndi Lauper singing "True Colors."

A couple of years later, I was working next to a guitarist-by-night. The radio was on, but not too loud, and my normally taciturn work-mate suddenly blurted, "God, but that Prince knows how to write a song, dun he?" I stared at him. We were listening to Sinéad O'Connor.

Prince was the full meal deal, no question. I was never a fan, but I've yet to meet a musician who wasn't in awe of him. Prodigiously talented, with an inerrant ear for staying accessible, possessed of one of those staggering personalities that changes the mood of an entire room -- even one the size of a stadium -- the only reason I bother acknowledging the obvious is . . .

. . . now that he's dead I find I'm wishing I'd made the effort to see him in concert.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Vintage Whisky, 2013

2013 -- the year of Donald Duck, Sylvester Stallone -- and Anneken Heyndricks. (It's all spurr-chall.)


Friday, April 15, 2016

Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff

Lovecraft CountryLovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Matt Ruff's theme becomes clear very quickly in this novel twist on Lovecraftian motifs -- when it comes to existential peril, Americans of colour face direr consequences when confronted by their country's white citizens than by any encounter with the Ancient Ones and their various ephemera. Ruff's juxtaposition is persuasive -- so much so that his characters' experience of Lovecraft's tropes is almost blasé by contrast. This strikes me as an opportunity lamentably missed, but emotional mileage will vary from reader to reader. In the end it's thought-provoking entertainment, akin to the better episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series.

View all my reviews

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Vintage Whisky, 2012

Yikes -- what was I drinking in '12? There's heaps of posts that seem to stand well -- and this is but a smattering that's been culled as mercilessly as possible.

Highest of the Highlights: The Prairie Cemetery, parts I, II, III; Postcard From Maine; Father(s) and Daughter Gone Haywire; The Monks' Bad Habits.

  • Carnivàle -- the first viewing. BTW, my speculation regarding the series' narrative direction? Completely wrong.
  • TV Hits (And Misses) -- it's a family affair.
  • Father(s) and Daughter Gone Haywire -- Soderbergh, Dobbs, Carano: I loved it (would, in fact, add it to my list of 15).
  • Skyfall -- words cannot convey my disappointment in, and final loathing of, that movie. But I gave it a shot.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Dineen Building, at Adelaide and Yonge Street

The Dineen Building in Toronto is emblematic of the challenges facing the city's most aesthetically contentious commercial strip -- downtown Yonge Street. This is what it looks like (as of last Saturday):

Clearly, someone has invested a great deal to bring this heritage building into the current millennium.

That "someone" is Clayton Smith of the Commercial Realty Group. I'm not fond of the glass enclosure at the top of the building, but otherwise I'd say Smith's architects (George Robb/George Popper) have done exemplary work.

Here's another shot (different digital "filter"). Notice the closed discount shoe place to the right (the north side of the building, both facing east).

If we continue south down Yonge Street, we see further restoration/upgrade efforts of a similar commitment under way.

Crossing the street and facing east, we have this to look at:

This is typical of this portion of Yonge Street, which begins at the south at Front Street and extends north to Bloor Street. The majority of store fronts suggest relatively low rents, and shelves stocked with goods that have "fallen" off the back of a truck.

Even after Queen Street "gentrified" into just another Mall of America, there is no shortage of these sorts of enterprises or commercial districts in Toronto. It could be argued that just about any North American down town is similarly populated, but what is notable about this particular stretch of Yonge is its proximity to Bay Street, and the vaunted TSX. It's been some years since I was last in NYC, so you tell me: are there discount shoe stores and sports nutrition franchises flanking Wall Street?

That building housing "Popeye's" caught my eye, as well -- though not for complimentary reasons. I wondered if, with its reliance on concrete as a means to an aesthetic end, it was an example of "Brutalism." If so, it would be a very early entrant -- this is the Lumsden (now "Dynamic") Building, built in 1910.

Here is some history of the Lumsden Building. I'm not as taken with the Lumsden as the author, but there's no denying its fascinating history (Turkish bath in the basement!), or the imprint it leaves on the immediate neighbourhood. As is, it poses direct aesthetic challenges to its surroundings, and the current attempts to rejuvenate aesthetic appeal and interest.

Here is a profile of Clayton Smith, prior to the Dineen's improvements. The restoration won honourable mention in the 2013 Heritage Toronto Awards. Here is the Dineen Coffee site.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Harry Rosen Building, 82 Bloor Street West

I was downtown Toronto earlier this week, walking from one old haunt (the bookstore) to another (the University of Toronto). As I gawped at the various changes taking place -- old buildings leveled and dug out, basically, to make way for new condos, etc -- my eyes settled on the recently renovated Harry Rosen flagship store, at 82 Bloor West.

I admire it. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures (this one is from da webz) -- so I can't quite communicate what makes this particular face-lift (via architects Ron Shieh and Tony Ng) so visually effective in its given neighborhood. But it stands apart from the surrounding architecture without being garish or thumb-in-yer-eye about it. It's handsome and up-to-the-minute in its lines, without being stylistically confrontational. Stately and snappy -- pretty much the physical embodiment of the interior contents, really.

I hope to get back to this, but for now I'll wish you a happy weekend -- WP/dpr

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Vintage Whisky, 2011

Much of 2011 was devoted to cobbling together a Grade 9 soundtrack that, when all was said and done, only a cobbler such as myself could love.
"WRONG! Awesomest. Soundtrack. EVER!!"
My favourite posts from this year are Pokemon, Herzog and Recording Artists v. Marginal Utility.





Friday, April 01, 2016

Weekend Long-Reads

Scads of long-reads to recommend, this week -- most of them from The Los Angeles Review of Books (when they get on a roll, hoo baby).

  • "I wouldn't mind dying, if dying was all" -- Perhaps, like me, you don't have much time for the last 15-30 years of Bob Dylan's catalogue. That's fine, because Max Nelson listens on our behalf, and uses Dylan's "loose tryptich" -- Time Out Of Mind, Modern Times and Tempest -- as launchpad into the weird and troubling aural soundscape of America's earliest Gospel singers.
  • "As one whom the Freedom From Religion Foundation would reckon among the culpably enslaved, I might not be expected to welcome Jacoby’s new book Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion, but welcome it I do, for in book after book this writer has been a paradoxically effective religion teacher, and this new book, her most ambitious yet, is no exception" -- Jack Miles is super-appreciative of Susan Jacoby. Miles wrote two books I've returned to several times over the past few years (but only mentioned once) -- God: A Biography and Christ: A Crisis In The Life Of God. Please, kids: take and read.
  • Someone else I frequently return to is Albert Camus. So much so, in fact, that I've thought it behooves me to roll up my sleeves and maybe just for once write something about the guy, already. Trouble is there are so many minds keener than my own who have gone and done so. Case in point, Robert Zaretsky's The Limits of Absurdity. Absurdity was, of course, the philosophical stance which Camus made his personal cause célèbre -- and which, in turn, made him an international intellectual celebrity. Camus later strove to change his stance. Zaretsky reflects, and wonders if that didn't occur the moment when America first confronted Camus, and he gently returned the favour.
  • So, yeah: I'm a dilettante. And I might as well admit, when it comes to the work of David Lynch I've consulted my watch through the duration of every film of his I've watched -- except for Blue Velvet. Dennis Lim pens an observant and wide-ranging appreciation of this film over here.
  • And finally, just for giggles: what's the point of being a freelancer for the glossies if you can't write a catty piece that sneers at everyone who's ever signed a paycheque for you?

Wishing you a happy weekend -- WP/dpr

"We call this pose, 'L'homme se répand.'"