Friday, October 24, 2014

Holy And Humble Chatter, In The Wake Of Wednesday

One of the churchier e-letters* in my in-box raised my ire, by proclaiming Wednesday’s madness (surely the activity of a “radicalized” Muslim) a clear signature of “The nihilism of contemporary secularism” decades in the making, and its concomitant inability to provide our nation's youth with a sense of mission or purpose.


A moment of pious introspection, before I take to the pulpit.
Well, were I to address this claim directly, I might decry the lazy, pejorative use of “secular,” then build an alternative case suggesting the failure is just as likely due to our ruling elites’ steady, Burkean dismantling of Canada’s vast liberal state apparatus, to the point where young fellas are faced with a future of under-employment if they don't migrate to the oil-fields of Alberta  a task begun somewhat inadvertently by Jean Chretien but carried out with particular vigour by our current PM, usually to nods of approval by the dudes** (still not too many women contributing to this “think tank”) who send me these e-letters.

And I might throw down the gauntlet and ask, how many churches*** can a young man recently graduated from high-school walk into and say, “I need a job, and a roof over my head,” and expect direct help on both those fronts? Since it’s my religion**** we’re discussing, lemme tell you: the percentages are pretty low. Kids get better help with these baseline concerns when they approach Mormons, Jews and Muslims.

Out here in the Wild West, “Christian community” is, by and large, ersatz community, with little beyond worship committees and Bible studies and the occasional “think tank” to distinguish it from bourgeois “secular” communities and their book clubs — that is what I might say, were I to build up a proper head of steam. Now, you might derive your life’s purpose from studying the Bible, provided you’ve got an adroit buttinsky in the room. But (I might add) if all you have when you wake up in the morning is a part-time job pushing carts across a parking lot, your sacred sense of purpose is going to erode at a dependably steady rate.

And I might also say . . . well, no. I’m done speculating on myself.


...gotta catch my breath....

Wednesday’s attack seems to me as likely the by-product of precarious mental health as it was of “radicalization.” Now, I've no doubt some earnest poindexter has penned a Christian theology of mental illness, but we’re still waiting for it to capture the attention, hearts and minds of the body at large. With or without such a theological construct, here in the West our beloved Bride of Christ foists the manifold challenges of dealing with the mentally ill on — surprise!The State.

Now, if you’re going to accuse our “secular” state of failing the mentally ill, that is a matter worth discussing and taking action on. But “lack of purpose”? Get your Burkean ass outta my in-box. 

*I’m not going to point fingers, but the guy who wrote it is DUTCH!

**DUTCH, most of 'em.

***Of DUTCH origin, or otherwise.

****Which, in my case I will admit, does indeed have DUTCH roots, but of the shabby, Friesland variety.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Richard Marshall, The 3:AM Interviews

Richard Marshall has carved out an almost sui generis role in contemporary culture in doing highly intelligent interviews with a wide range of serious philosophers, and doing so in terms that are intelligible to those outside philosophy, indeed, intelligible in almost all cases to any educated person” — Brian Leiter (from here)
Richard Marshall: "biding his time," apparently.
I was set to call Marshall a super-smart hep-cat who engages with serious thinkers and restless interweb readers alike, but I think Leiter has the sharper take. Here are two recent 3:AM interviews I enjoyed and recommend: “On theism and explanation” with Greg Dawes and “Towards hope” with George Pattison.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Recalibration Of “Fun”: Delicate by Martha and the Muffins

“The fun is over.”

A more compassionately adroit reader might have phrased the matter differently, or perhaps begun the Tarot session with the question of concern. As it stands, “The fun is over” is a blunt assessment of expectations, or to my mind an improvement on the old addiction canard: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

There are varieties of fun a person learns to surrender as they mature. Most of us got thrills putting our fingers near daddy’s face, so he could pretend to bite them. And for most of us, that fun was over by the time we turned five. So it goes. Life requires a continual recalibration of expectations and experience.


Leonard Nevarez is a huge Martha and the Muffins fan, and does some snappy deconstructing of their oeuvre (among other matters) over here. It sounds like the folks at 33 1/3 turned down his proposal for a booklet devoted to either This Is The Ice Age or Danseparc, I’m not sure which. It also sounds like the University of Toronto Press has agreed to a larger MatM-based project. A loss to the hipster press is an academic gain I look forward to reading. Excelsior, dude.

Anyway, I am deeply indebted to Nevarez for framing MatM’s aesthetic as a sort of cartography of longing (my words, not his), because it’s helped me identify what makes Delicate so appealing to my ears. Nevarez seems a tad non-plussed that this latest album appears to no longer chart out their earlier social-displacement within the Global Village — a more intimate location-by-location exploration of the sort of thing David Byrne & Co. gave the Reader’s Digest treatment, in “Cities.”

MatM’s focus may have shifted somewhat, but I think it’s a good thing. Real Life Massive Wallops tend to hone one’s focus on the intimate and immediate — the journey nevertheless continues, albeit on a vastly re-calibrated scale. Take a seemingly throw-away song like “Crosswalk,” an extended stream-of-consciousness riff appended to the chorus-chant, “All she wants to do is cross the street.” The collected words and images are surreal and harrowing — the soundtrack, perhaps, of a midlife mind in its ape’s journey as parental eyes watch a child negotiating with street traffic. Somehow the journey from here to there, across the street, concludes with life in balance.

Delicate touches on other adult concerns, from mortality to chafing against social/religious edict, the age-alteration of desire and expectation. The sound may not have quite the youthful stride of earlier MatM albums, but remains unmistakably Muffin-esque.

After 25 years of no Muffins on the eardrums, the overall effect of listening to Delicate was akin to enjoying a deep conversation with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. She hadn’t changed a bit — except in all the necessary ways.

Heaps of fun material (including the above photo) awaits you here, at the official Martha and the Muffins site.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Daniel Lanois: “The Fun Is Over” Part 2

I spent the '90s hanging with musicians and performers. If that's never been your experience, and you wonder what it might be like, Jonathan Demme's '08 Anne Hathaway vehicle Rachel Getting Married pretty much nails it — psycho-social drama/trauma included.


The music and performing never stops with these people. And it's not just about seizing the spotlight: they're almost always good listeners, too. It's about staying focused and nimble, to better locate The Thing Itself: the sound, the pulse, the emotional ebb and flow of the Cosmos.*

If there was one performer from that decade who my performer friends held in the highest esteem, it was Daniel Lanois.


I, the hanger-on and rank amateur listener, found this curious. To my ears, Lanois's music was a bit too etherial to be anything other than an acquired taste. Lanois's production, on the other hand, clearly brought unusual surfaces and textures to light, particularly with performers whose delivery had become staid. That was the material I had no trouble raving about, but most of my friends considered that stuff tangential at best, a criminal distraction at worst. To their ears Lanois the performer was in hot pursuit of The Thing Itself, and they considered him very close indeed.

Shortly after I picked up Martha and the Muffins' Delicate, I downloaded Here Is What Is, the soundtrack to the Daniel Lanois documentary of the same name. Lanois's album came out a year or two before Delicate, and is pretty much what a listener should expect from him. When I was younger, I wasn't always fond of his patented echo-chamber. But on this album, he pares away previous flourishes and draws out the Lanois Palette with a winning patience and simplicity. Listening to it on a long drive through autumn colours is quite the experience. Maybe those circumstances flipped the switch for me, or perhaps age has better attuned my ears, but I now find Lanois's sonic textures and excavations have a deep, primordial reach.

I'm a little uneasy about comparing and contrasting Lanois with MatM — they have very little in common in terms of preferred styles and themes. But their shared point of origin, and strikingly different trajectories suggest a Venn Diagram that's difficult to resist.

The fun is over. I suspect that — and what follows is, I realize, all reckless speculation on my part — for Lanois, not only is the “fun” still very much in play, it will likely carry him into the grave. I can think of several reasons for this, the first being that his sense of fun has always leaned toward the esoteric. I've seen him perform in front of a couple thousand people at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and later in a room of dozens, and he seems equally at home with either. He is pursuing The Thing Itself.

I also suspect he doesn't have to worry about money. Given the people who have his number on their speed-dial, he probably pays somebody else to worry about his money.

To whom, if anybody, is he tethered? Does he have a Significant Other — a wife, or a husband? Does he have any children? The first page of a Google search turns up a big fat zero. I could get more creative in my search fields, and keep clicking until I turn up . . . something. But the message he's clearly sending is it's none of my business. The answers to those questions are not elements Lanois wishes his work to be framed by.*** It's his playground, his ball, his rules, and I'm either fine with that, or I can go look for another game in town.

I am fine with that, actually. But I'll tell you something else: a little self-disclosure goes a very long way to keeping my ears attuned to your work— particularly if this business of paying the bills and raising a family is something you're still figuring out.



*There's a reason why radio, television, movies, and even the most stridently rationalist podcast begin and conclude with a few bars of music.

**I'll never forget a party where someone dropped For The Beauty Of Wynona on the platter, and the entire room promptly shut up and gathered around the speakers.

***A characteristic he shares with his big-ticket clients.

Friday, October 03, 2014

“The Fun Is Over”: Delicate by Martha and the Muffins: A Review In Two (Possibly More) Parts

Funny people are dangerous.

I once knew a very funny guy who did tarot card readings. A woman called, and he spent an hour doing the usual Q&A over the outlay. As their time approached a close, she remained pensive. He sensed he wasn’t getting to the nub of what she’d come to him for. He asked if perhaps she had questions she’d like answered before she left.

“I just want to know,” she said, “when is the fun coming back?”

“Oh. I see. May I ask: how old are you?”

“Thirty-five.”

He threw up his hands. “Oh, honey,” he said, “the fun is over.

****

In the summer of 1980 I went with my church youth group to Grand Beach, Lake Winnipeg. Typical youth group, typical beach activities. I drove back with a guy whose car had an AM radio.

“Echo Beach” by Martha and the Muffins was playing.


There were only two pop stations broadcasting out of Winnipeg, plus a third that played a mix of easy-listening and country.

“I’m not a fan of this song,” said the driver, punching the radio to the other pop station.

Within minutes, “Echo Beach” was playing. He switched to the country station. There was Glen Campbell, the Carpenters, then . . . 

“Unbelievable,” he said, punching it back to the first station. Ten minutes later they were playing it again.

I actually liked the song, especially after a day at the beach. It had a brooding quality that kept it tethered to the id. I mean, what an existence: My job is very boring/I’m an office clerk . . . The only thing that helps me pass the time away/Is knowing I’ll be back at Echo Beach some day. God, spare me!

****

The ‘80s were a decade that was good to MatM, in all the ways a young band wants a decade to be good to it. Which is to say, a big label came along, dropped a pile of money and made their lives a nightmare, until the founding members finally figured out what was going on, and got the right gears linked up with the proper chain.

A new label, a new lineup, a smaller contract, a much smaller budget — but considerably more freedom, so who cares? The bass player has family in Hamilton with their own mixing board in the basement. We’ll just get them to do it on the cheap. A couple of brothers, genuine nerds, freaky about getting the sound just exactly right, last name of “Lanois.” 

Two amazing albums came out of that arrangement — This Is The Ice Age and Danseparc. After that, things got blurry for me. Did MatM disappear? Or did they and I just move on to other scenes?

****

Delicate came out in 2010, and is MatM’s eighth studio album.


I picked it up a couple of months ago. A lot of history has passed since Danseparc, the last MatM album I listened to, including parenthood/kids, Parkinson's and cancer. Also, the band lineup has undergone yet another sea-change.

I gave the album a couple of spins. After listening to Delicate, I’d cue up This Is The Ice Age, or Danseparc. Then for a week or two I listened to nothing but Danseparc.

This Is The Ice Age is in some ways the more daring, and most accomplished MatM album, but Danseparc has its own unique thrill and thrall. It is the sound of a band completely in sync — with each other, and with the scene around them. And the music scene in Toronto, 1982, was wildly vibrant and not a little wacky, from-here-to-NYC-to-the-world global — and always super-danceable. 

Listening to Danseparc you can hear the influences of George Clinton, Adrian Belew, Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Rough Trade — but it’s not as if MatM is “stealing” a synth-note from here, a hook from there, a tom-tom fill from that guy. Bands were swapping this stuff like LEGO pieces back then, reaching into the same enormous pile of smooth, brightly-colored oddly-shaped bricks, and pushing them together to make architecture you had to move your feet to. MatM was constructing and deconstructing with the very best of them, but Danseparc is a vibrant demonstration of a band that isn’t at the center of The Scene, it is actually somewhere near the edge of the wild frontier, producing sounds that prompt Brian Eno to speak with Steve Lilywhite about maybe getting that Irish band to call those Hamilton boys for the next album.

That is a very heady place to be. So if you toggle from Danseparc back to Delicate, you quickly realize: 

the fun is over.
M(artha Johnson) + M(ark Gane)


Or is it? Stay tuned . . .

Monday, September 29, 2014

D.G. Meyers, R.I.P.

D.G. Meyers has died. This, then, concludes his particular Commonplace Blog. Sad news, indeed. I often disagreed with his critical pronouncements, especially when he got around to making his lists. But also, I often found myself won over by essay’s end. He wrote well. He wrote persuasively.

Some recent favourites: “All unhappy families are alike” here. “Transcendence is a glimpse of the reality created and sustained by dull habit” here.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Back To The Bridge

Well. Five years later, we're back on the bridge. The new owner seems to have made significant improvements to the cottage. We shall see. Regardless, it's supposed to be a clear weekend.

You know where to find me.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Fantagraphics' Don Rosa Library, Vol. 1

I’m happy to see Don Rosa receive prestige treatment from Fantagraphics.



Previews here and here.


The Carl Barks library is essential, of course, but the case could be made that Rosa’s works are equally so. Rosa came to the Disney Duck-blind in the mid-80s, when Gladstone Publishing reintroduced Barks (and Gottfredson) to American comic book stores. Rosa, a voluminous contributor to a fanzine forerunner of the Comics Buyer’s Guide, was already on speaking terms with Gladstone’s editor Byron Erickson; Rosa pitched a story, with artwork, and was immediately conscripted into service as writer, artist and resident bearer of Barks’ torch.

Introducing Don Rosa

Rosa’s reverence toward Barks — the characters, the art, the maturity of voice and approach to story — cannot be overstated. Rosa’s fealty to the eight-panel storyline is almost absolute, the ducks’ “human” foibles very much in flux, kicking the stories’ plotlines into motion and inviting emotional investment from the reader. Rosa is also shrewdly devoted to Duckburg as an American locale, historically situated in a fantasy fifties (where cabinet radios, rotary-phones, and a jalopy with the “313” license plate, etc. are the norm).


Rosa’s style emulates Barks’, but is nevertheless uniquely invested with Rosa’s own personality. Rosa says he’s been accused of bringing an “underground” sensibility to Barks’ world, and bristles at comparisons to Crumb (he certainly has Crumb’s fondness for the onomatopoeia, but has a drawing style more akin, I think, to Basil Wolverton’s non-hallucinatory work (where such could be said to exist)). Rosa was self-taught, and brings the same obsessive-compulsive love of detail that served him well as a comic book archivist. Consequently, where Barks might content himself with fluffy clouds rendered with a few swift strokes of a sable brush and a reliance on the colorist’s use of blue, Rosa etches densely textured clouds that are, of course, punctured audibly.


I think it works. It sometimes reads as “edgy,” but how is that a bad thing in relation to Barks’ ducks? Indeed, Rosa’s stories have a kinetic energy that bristle with an underlying anxiety I think Barks could appreciate.


Unfortunately, another element in Rosa’s life that Barks could appreciate is the thorough shafting he received at the hands of The Mouse. As with Barks, the penny dropped quite late in Rosa’s life; Disney’s contracts are iron-clad, and bids for compensation all but futile. Due diligence is left entirely in the hands of the young artist, who more often than not is eager or desperate to sign. While fiscally canny, this corporate strategy strikes me as profoundly short-sighted with regards to legacy. Surely it is in the corporation’s own best interests to cultivate, care for, and duly reward those rare artists who bring something unique that keeps an aging property vibrant and relevant in an increasingly volatile zeitgeist?

Whether or not the Fantagraphics publications address any of that, the presentation is first-class. The Rosa book is slightly larger than the Barks’ volumes, making Rosa’s hyper-articulate artwork more accessible to the reader. The coloration team utilises the gradient shading that current comic book readers have come to expect, which also contributes to accessibility.

Rosa’s European fanbase is substantial, but he remains all but unknown on this continent so fixated with men-in-tights-and-gals-in-less. Here’s hoping these publications bring some correction to that trend.



Further reading: Rosa's wiki; my appreciation of Carl Barks; my appreciation of Floyd Gottfredson; Fantagraphics website.



Saturday, September 13, 2014

Christopher Orr Rates The Coens

I’ve had it in my head to list the Coen Brothers movies in order of greatness — for the last eight years, it seems. My enthusiasm for the project, however, wanes whenever I consider the less-bearable entries. I’ll be happier if I live out the remainder of my days without re-watching The Hudsucker Proxy or The Man Who Wasn't There. I’ve watched worse, to be sure, but seldom more than once.



Well, if you sit on a good idea long enough, someone is bound to pick it up and run with it. And that’s exactly what Christopher Orr is doing over at The Atlantic. Orr’s doing terrific work of it, too. In the case of Barton Fink, which leaves Orr cold, he invites a fella two desks over to make the case for the movie’s lovability — an eminently wise move, considering how much love some of us have for that flick.

All in all a very entertaining discussion of a, to an astonishing degree, very entertaining canon-still-in-progress. Start here, with Blood Simple.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wanting To Enjoy vs. Desperate To Avoid

Are there any popular acts you think you ought to enjoy, but somehow, despite your most earnest efforts, just can't seem to?

Various weblinks this week have brought several to my attention. I've spoken before about Stephen King. His advice on writing and teaching is spot-on. When he climbs on his soapbox, he usually wins me over. Then he releases yet another door-stopper that sounds so promising . . . and I pick it up, read the first few pages, keep going for another one- or two-hundred, and . . . something happens that makes me feel like I've just watched Emeril Lagasse drop the frying pan, only to retrieve it from the floor and keep cooking. No, no — it's alright buddy, keep the pan to the heat. I've just lost my appetite, is all.

Similarly, Elmore Leonard.

Also: James Ellroy — what a character. I love his magazine work, and think the way he openly confesses to and revels in his low-life impulses is a) almost admirable and b) entirely entertaining (I'm in the minority, apparently). The scope and vision and ambition of his fiction is certainly impressive. But the novels leave me cold. It's not a matter of taking offense, or being repulsed. It's just . . . meh, whatever.

“The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.”* So said Paul Hewson, aka Bono Vox, or just plain Bono. Speaking of whom, if there is a group that has nudged me out of indifference into a deep and abiding loathing, it is his U2. And on Tuesday, when I opened the software platform to my Infernal Device, I discovered an entire album in my library that I had no desire whatsoever to encounter. In response, Mr. Hewson has said, “For people out there who have no interest in checking us out, look at it this way . . . the blood, sweat & tears of some irish guys are in your junk mail.”

Speaking as someone who's taken money for producing junk mail of his own, let me inform you of a seldom appreciated fact: there isn't a single piece of junk mail that doesn't contain the blood, sweat and tears of the hacks who created it. The elements of BS&T don't make it any more welcome — or even any good.

Anyway, I won't be listening to it, so don't expect a take-down review from me — except for the title of the opening track: “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone).” Oh, sure: give all the love to poor, sweet Joey. How's about The Miracle of Johnny Ramone, the treacherous, irascible, venomous, right-of-Attila bastard who kept his baffled and befuddled on-the-spectrum band-mate fed and clothed in Levis and leather jackets throughout his entire adult life?

But I digress.

I actually used to be a fan, from way-way-back: Boy days, in fact. If you can predate that, you're not from the prairie grasslands of Canada, you're from Dublin. I remained steadfast right up until The Joshua Tree, when I began to have my doubts about the project (which they nevertheless reached past with the penultimate song on that album). Then came their Ironic Phase, which, at the time, struck me as note-perfect for the age (both mine, and the one I was living in). Even Pop was welcome — the fizzier songs, at least. The more serious songs, on the other hand, made me nervous.

I don't know which track I heard from their next album, but I can remember exactly where I was when I heard it: in the parking lot of a Movieplex, where public speakers were broadcasting a tone of voice and guitar I knew all-too-well. Oh, so now you're sincere again? I thought. Well then, permit me to sincerely retort . . . 


"...and the horse you rode in on!"

The more I meditated on it, the clearer the realization became that with this complete about-face these guys had just driven a stake through the heart of rock-and-roll. All that “best band in the world” shite: even their audience took it seriously. Now every band in their wake would strain to sound like Bono and/or Edge, and good luck trying to get any young audience roused if your drummer didn't photocopy Larry Clayton's frozen-in-the-pocket band-class snare-bursts.

Think I exaggerate? Then why don't you rouse yourself some Sunday morning, and go attend worship service at your local Evangelical Superstore . . . erm, church? Listen to the worship band, and tell me you don't catch more than an echo of everything I've just slandered.

Can't get away from them in the mall, or church, or parking lot or even my so-called personal computer . . . yes, indeed: what a debt we all owe those hard-working Irish so-and-so's.

Alright, I've gotta sit down and catch my breath. Read this or this or even Sasha Frere Jones if you need more.


*Quoting, with attribution I'm sure, Elie Wiesel.

17-ix-14: Old dogs, old tricks:



Friday, September 05, 2014

Patti Smith, Eleanor Wachtel

My friend the art dealer characterizes The Greats as, “People of serious generosity.” The phrase came to mind repeatedly yesterday when I listened to Eleanor Wachtel interview Patti Smith.


I don’t know why I had this particular podcast mouldering in my Infernal Device for so long (so many podcasts, so little time), but this conversation with Smith is exceptional. Smith comes across as approachable and (of course) articulate, keeping a searing perspicacity in balance with a generous humanity. Her observations about accepting help from others were particularly moving.

I would add to my friend’s observation that the greatest of The Greats have a way of calling to and awakening similar artistic and moral yearnings in others. By conversation’s end, I’d done the full-Zacchaeus and shifted my internal monologue from saying, “I wanna do that” to “I'm gonna do that!”

It's no longer available for download, but you can stream it here. (You probably already know how to record audio-streams, but just in case you don't.)

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Wall of Plastic

Alex Ross considers the online cornucopia of sound files, and returns to the comforts and rewards of his “wall of plastic.”

I don’t stream music, but I’ve also stopped playing CDs.

At this moment in Canada streaming options are extremely limited. A listener can rig up an internet chain to get access to Spotify and the like, but the sound quality is less-than-ideal. Fussy listeners can subscribe to Google Play, HMV’s “The Vault” or the Sony Entertainment Network — this last option being the only legitimate venue for audiophiles (which I can’t quite claim to be). Sony’s catalog is vast, of course, but has its limits. Still, it's quite the bar-goon.

I still subscribe to eMusic, having grandfathered a super-sweet subscription rate. I tend to download entire albums, partly because I’m fond of the format, and partly because I hope to give beleaguered artists a few more shekels in their pocket.

And of course I have my own wall of plastic, which I’ve arranged to highlight exemplary trophies of liner notes and album art (“The power of the commodity fetish,” as Erik Davis puts it).

Whoever would have thought a band called "Tool"
would cook up the most singularly delightful CD packaging?

But I don’t play any of them. I’ve ripped them all into a portable library of fat, juicy WAV files. At home, I feed them through a DAC and listen to them via my chunky (but still better-than-serviceable) post-college stereo speakers. In the car, well, who cares?

My wife still listens to CDs. She has a half-dozen that are her bedrock of well-being. They have a permanent spot in the car that shuttles her to and from the airport.

My daughters each own a handful of CDs, but they are a particularly concrete form of “back-up.” In the next few years when they embark on their college experience, I expect those CDs will be exactly where they are right now, collecting dust. I have occasionally regretted giving my parents the go-ahead to sell my vinyl, but I doubt my children will experience any such pangs.

I’m the last person to recognize it, but things have changed.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Steely Dan, Sony Centre For The Performing Arts, Toronto, August 23

To celebrate a recent marriage milestone, my wife and I indulged an increasingly rare impulse, and drove in to the city for dinner and a concert — Steely Dan. Not only does she credit me with bringing a love of The Dan to our marriage, she claims this is a good thing. Win-win!

Obligatory crappy phone-shot.

This was a first for us, in fact. Beyond videos (shadows on the wall, really) I'd never seen them play — their concerts here inevitably coincided with family events in the prairies (some years ago when I played best man to my friend the groom, an attendee at the wedding greeted me with, “You're not at the concert!”). This year was exceptional, so there we were.

The Bobby Broom Organi-Sation — a trio of guitar, electric organ and drums — opened, with a set of slyly tweaked and infectious selections from the Boomer Soundtrack, plus a little Fats Waller. I've gone and added Broom to my Saturday/Sunday morning soundtrack.

Then it was on to the headliners. This is, in the main, a band that has been performing together for the last 15 years. “Tight” was surely a given, but I was not expecting the energetic pow! that followed and carried the evening to a satisfying conclusion nearly two hours later. Donald Fagen has famously groused that his audience is increasingly geriatric, singling out Toronto as particularly moribund. While he and Walter Becker are unquestionably producing primo grade Dad Rock, last night's audience included no shortage of daughters several decades removed from their cohort kicking up a fuss in the aisles — until house security shooed them back to their seats (fire regulations, I'm guessing).

There isn't a member of the band that doesn't deserve a massive shout-out, but drummer Keith Carlock was a particular revelation. The norm for the session drummers of most Dan (and Fagen solo) albums is to take a deep cleansing breath, then settle in to the business of holding down the back-beat. Carlock brings an energetic muscularity to the music, attacking his kit with Gene Krupa-like vigour. “Aja” is the acid test for drummers — Steve Gadd's imprint on that track is singularly deep, but Carlock ably walks the high-wire, pulling off a performance that acknowledges the source without succumbing to pallid imitation.

Similarly guitarist Jon Herington has the unenviable task of producing solos which have to be recognizable enough, while adding some element of surprise or revelation to keep the performance fresh — to take what a host of others have carved out, and somehow make the entire mash his own. Formidable task, but damned if Herington doesn't have the chops and the attitude to pull it off with aplomb.

All in all a swell night. No disappointments to speak of, though I would have enjoyed a few more inclusions from their two latest albums (judging from the slightly muted response to “Janie Runaway,” Fagen & Becker might well have taken note from past Toronto dates and steered the playlist predominantly to their 70s catalog). Also, Fagen was clearly fighting some laryngitis-type bug, but what are you gonna do? Dude gave it his all in the “Kid Charlemagne” encore and somehow squeezed out “Yes, there's gas in the car!” — the highest string of exclamatory notes all night. I'm amazed he wasn't pulled off the stage in a stretcher.

Alright, here's the setlist, cobbled together in recollection some hours later, as written, with corrections footnoted (I've likely got the order botched, particularly the middle numbers, but not the song titles):

- band, unknown (Mancini?*)
- Black Cow
- Aja
- Hey Nineteen
- Black Friday
- Bodhisattva (order could be off after this)
- Janie Runaway
- Dirty Work (girls sing)
- Daddy Don't Live In That NYC No More (Becker sings)
- Green Earrings
- Rikki Don't Lose That Number
- Josie
- Peg
- Babylon Sisters
- Showbiz Kids
(unknown — Ike Turner?**)
- Reelin' In The Years
- My Old School

Encore

- Kid Charlemagne
- band, theme from The Untouchables

*”Cubano Chant,” Ray Bryant
**”I Want To (Do Everything For You),” Joe Tex

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Not-Pining For The '90s

When I first read James Wolcott's sniffy disdain for '90s Nostalgia a couple of weeks ago, I thought, This is a put-on. There is no “'90s Nostalgia.'” Then, right on cue, The Onion AV Club launched their '90s Nostalgia series.

Back when I was living out the '90s, I wondered if it wasn't the decade I'd be nostalgic for. I was getting my adult feet under me, and wearing a decidedly youthful bod (and mane of hair). Thanks to WIRED magazine, I finally discovered the internet. Rock music was still cool. So were the Simpsons.

Get a haircut, ya bum.

Oof. Good riddance to all that — yes, even the body. All that youthful energy, directed into youthful anxiety, and youthful aggression, and youthful expressions of a self best left to percolate and age into something just a tad wiser — and kinder — before expressing anything.

No, I'll happily (for the most part) wear the extra flab as the softer self that I sometimes wish had been more present in the '90s. The concern being, of course, how best to be present in the here and now — which I'm already nostalgic for.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

CBC Ideas with Paul Kennedy: After Atheism: New Perspectives On God And Religion

A recent 10-hour drive gave me the opportunity to binge-listen to podcasts, particularly CBC’s Ideas with Paul Kennedy (link). And more particularly, the five-part series, After Atheism: New Perspectives on God and Religion by David Cayley. Cayley surveys and interviews five fellas with provocative deep thoughts regarding the contemporary state of the religious mind: Richard Kearney (Anatheism: Returning to God After God), John Caputo (on Jacques Derrida), William Cavanaugh (Migrations of the Holy: God, State & The Political Meaning of the Church), James Carse (The Religious Case Against Belief) and Roger Lundin (Believing Again: Doubt & Faith In A Secular Age).

If any of this is ringing bells of vague familiarity, Kennedy and Cayley are the same guys who brought us The Myth of the Secular, the entirety of which receives an enthusiastic thumbs-up from Yours Truly. Said I about that: “Every time I’d nod my head in agreement with someone’s sentiment, another would follow to provoke thought in an unexpected direction. And who among us couldn’t stand a little more of that?”


Yeah — what I said.


At the moment the entire series is still available for download at iTunes. You can also stream After Atheism here.