Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Tim Chandler, 1960-2018

In 1982, midway through my 11th grade, I took a bus to a small music store on the other side of Winnipeg and spent 250 of my favourite dollars on a bass guitar. This purchase was largely motivated by what I'd seen and heard Tim Chandler do with a bass guitar in a church concert in LA in January of that year.

Chandler was the newest member of Daniel Amos, a group I obsessed over. A dishy dude with a Tom Selleck mustache, he was stepping in for DA stalwart Marty Dieckmeyer. Dieckmeyer had laid down the bass foundation for ¡Alarma!, an album I committed to memory — word for word, note for note. During that concert, Chandler proved not only familiar with Dieckmeyer's fundamentally solid bass-line, but keen to inject and resolve points of tension that were uniquely Chandler's own.

This was just the beginning for him. Good rock 'n' roll bass guitarists — think Paul McCartney, John Entwistle, even a meat-and-potatoes bassist like Cliff Williams — play just a whisper ahead of the drummer. Not only that, in many songs they introduce the melody anywhere from a half- to a whole-beat ahead of the rest of the band (listen to Williams on “Hells Bells” for a primary example of this). Chandler had these techniques down, and lots more besides.

Tim Chandler was a vigorous explorer of the pocket, sussing out every possible point of tension and exploiting it with a virtuosity that was wholly unique. On his second album with Daniel Amos — Vox Humana — the decision was made to replace the drummer with a machine, a move that would prompt most bassists to roll their eyes (“Why not just let the synth do me, too? Or the singer? Or everyone?”). Instead Chandler was all over it like a kid locked inside a candy store.

This variety of stylistic virtuosity is enough to send all but the sturdiest drummers screaming (the machine, which was never heard from again, may indeed have suffered a nervous breakdown). Drummers — in fact all band members — appear to have immensely enjoyed working with Chandler. Judging from his Facebook page, Chandler was predominantly a pleasant personality, openly affectionate, with a kid-brother sense of humour that kept the studio and tour van exploits breezy.

Alas for him and the listening world at large, Chandler grew his legs in the most fenced-in ghetto of the music industry imaginable — both from within and without. The groups he played with were not only devoted Christians, they were cussedly committed to exploring genres and styles that ran against the grain of CCM and Christian Rock. “Christian Alternative,” in other words — exceedingly rarefied stuff. If the unwary listener did not approach with an appetite whetted for exactly that, odds were stacked heavily against ever acquiring the taste for it.

In a good and just world Chandler would be an in-demand session bassist, who played with the likes of Brian Wilson and Donald Fagen. Chandler's untimely death at 58 curtails that fantasy with grim finality.

Rest in peace, Tim Chandler.
Links: “Bass players do not really matter” — a wide-ranging interview with Tim Chandler.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

This Kavanaugh thing...

...pretty visceral, isn't it?

I haven't watched so much as five seconds footage, yet here I am, drawn into the fray.

I have my reasons.

I don't like 'im, but that's largely immaterial — judges, particularly soops, aren't often likable people.

I've given both my daughters the “If you're at a party...” lecture.

I imagine Kavanaugh's given similar lectures to his daughters. He and I are the same age.

I would deeply dread any job interview that could dredge up episodes of my behaviour from my high school days.

If I remember rightly — and I am willing (am I ever!) to accept correction on this matter — I was frequently a jerk.
Pretty much.
Not all the time, not hardly. And not as big a jerk as some guys were. I was largely pious, which put a curb on some varieties of jerkish behaviour (I wasn't yet a drinker, for one thing) but led to others which were inexcusably cruel — episodes where I was not just thoughtless but a deliberately hurtful and unlovable jerk. This was the general pattern of behaviour well into my 20s, I'd say. There are people I've apologized to for this. And there remain people to whom I owe an apology.

Which is all to say, I am not without compassion for Justice K_ and his family. But at the end of the day, I'm with this guy.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

In praise of letting music collect a little dust

I am a big fan of letting books steep on the shelf — just ask my wife.

I take a similar approach to music. According to my Infernal Device I have 47.2 days worth of music. The “most-played” list indicates I keep roughly five days in constant rotation. But once a week I'll put the ID on random, just to see if there exists any good reason for the other 90%  to languish in obscurity. Occasionally something gets rescued and thrown into the spotlight.

Steven Wilson hasn't been an “obscurity” for me, exactly — but he did slip in status from “golden-haired child.” That sobriquet went to the no-haired child.
The hair-tint still applies, however.
I had about five years of acquiring and exploring Wilson's ouevre. It was all one big delirious treat for my ears — until it wasn't. At some point I realized that if this guy had a sense of humour he wasn't about to let it slip into his music, so I gravitated to the funny guy and didn't look back.

These days I'm not feeling the LOLs quite so deeply, so I gave this setlist a play while doing the weekly house-clean. To my surprise, I found myself consulting the ID and giving “two- or three-star” songs a bump of an additional star or two. I even bought tickets to his November show. More anon, I'm sure.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Recovering brand integrity

Seems to be le mode du jour:
Buruma apparently has a wife and daughter -- I don't know if it's a relationship in good standing, but giving them first dibs at vetting Ghomeshi's mea culpa (absque 'culpa') would have been a stellar idea. Heck, just running it by the office fact-checker would have been a stellar idea.

It's a shame -- NYRB is a publication I've long admired, and Buruma's round in the editor's office appeared (from this distance) to be keeping its reputation on-track. But this move was so unfathomably stupid -- was perennial "poor misunderstood me" Mark David Chapman not available for a clarifying closing editorial? -- it makes Buruma's prompt sacking entirely explicable. And that's not even bringing into account Buruma's awkward attempt at defending the piece.

Paying Ghomeshi real money to address the public from a prestige platform remains a fireable offense -- this is good news.

"I don't ever want to hear his voice again." I wrote that four years ago, and my feelings have not changed one iota. And alas for the Mother Corp, my feelings of distaste and revulsion have expanded to include our national public broadcaster and many of the products they have on offer. It is curious to read this account of the post-Ghomeshi gong show and note which names associated with him and the enabling of his behaviour are still pulling in a Corporation paycheque.

I doubt I am alone in my disappointment, nor in my deliberate shift away from unqualified support of the Corp. CBC's brand, in other words, is still struggling to recover from l'affaire Ghomeshi.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

In search of lost books

Somewhere in this house is the copy of Frank Herbert's Dune which I first bought and read 40 years ago.

It is one of a handful of books that generates a cascade of memories with its physical, visual presence. Were it to disappear completely, and were I to buy as exact a replica as I could find, the replacement would not hold the same value. It would not be the book I bought at a second-hand bookstore in Abbotsford, B.C., the summer I bunked at a friend's place, waking up early to pick raspberries for five hours, then spending the rest of the day riding 10-speed bicycles and visiting derelict shops run by hippies.

Outside these shops the air smelled of cedar trees and rain. Inside it smelled of cigarette smoke (Player's Navy Cut) and patchouli oil.

Do you think I can find this book?

I'm pretty sure I last retrieved it three years ago, figuring the 50th anniversary of its publication was a good reason to re-read it. A few pages in, however, I realized two things: 1) this book was going to fall apart if I proceeded any further; 2) I wasn't sure I had it in me to proceed any further.

The prose read pretty much how I remembered it. Amalgamated linguistics aside, Herbert could hardly be called a “stylist.” He believed in sturdy narrative architecture, and laid down words like so much bricks and mortar. And I'd forgotten about the Appendices — an obvious source of inspiration for David Foster Wallace (whose writing I've only consumed in short doses).

Somewhere I put down Dune, and now I can't recall where. If you see it let me know.
It looks like this.
This podcast did a terrific job of covering the novel for me, and saved me the effort and heartbreak of buying and reading another copy. Coyle Neal introduces fellow host Danny Anderson to the book and they discuss it at length. I was chuffed not just to have my recall of its contents affirmed, but also my innate pronunciation of the novel's various Fremen words and names. A very enjoyable hour-and-a-bit — so much so that I aim to check out Anderson's earlier, pre-Dune-enlightenment sci-fi social-crit gabfest with Carter Stepper.

And if any of that appeals to you, then check out The Christian Humanist's discussion of H.P. Lovecraft — which I consider among the clearest explorations of the qualities and themes that make Lovecraft's horror horrific (and nigh-unto-impossible for today's super-enlightened writerly types to emulate).

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Puppet Uprising — now more than ever

In '77 I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a hippie. It didn't matter what the returned prodigals were saying before submitting to baptism, hippies were still doing all the cool stuff. They'd given us Sesame Street, H.R. Puffnstuff and Lidsville. Hippies brought us Star Wars, and the Muppet Show. And these cats all knew the rat race just produced more rats. They were gonna change things, we still had a generational revolution taking over, you just had to seek it out with greater fastidiousness and commitment —
Wait: this ain't Lidsville!
Eyeh. No need to go any further down that yellow brick road.

My childhood church didn't have many hippies. But it had a puppet troupe.
"Praise the Lord with clashing cymbals, with felt-clad hands and googly eyes..."
Actually our church had a number of super-cool youth initiatives, courtesy of the youth pastor Ken Dalenberg (quietly indefatigable) and his wife Sharon (the very definition of vivacious, and who should have been paid for her contributions — which were considerable — but never mind).

It was the mid-70s and hippies were returning to the fold, eschewing past misadventures with poverty and stench and consciousness-altering substances of dubious quality (with fellow travelers of dubious quality) and introducing disruptive ideas and dynamic modes of expression to the staid worshippers who had remained in the pews — and youth pastors like Ken were receptive. So our church took over a condemned property and put together a haunted house for Halloween. And none of this “Hell's Gates” bullshit. I'm talking a proper haunted house, with monsters and ghouls and giant spiders and Tussaud's usual gallery of physical torment — only with real people screaming.

The admissions line stretched around the block. Letters to the local newspaper shut that down pretty quickly and rescued the kids from all that satanic stuff.

But Ken and Sharon had other projects that caught fire — coffee houses with entertainment that used actual electric guitars; the usual bevy of hay-rides and wiener roasts; a choir with enough pop infusion to attract teens who genuinely wanted to sing the songs...

...and a puppet troupe.

Operating a sanctified muppet at the age of 12 was indeed a transformational experience — for the puppet, somewhat, but moreso for me. For a performance art, puppetry is surprisingly free of ego-related angst. As a beginner I was predictably inert. But that didn't matter — the puppet was cute and attracted all the attention. I became better at manipulation, but there was no singular “genius” at work. These puppets were interacting with each other, and many of them required more than one person to bring them to life.

It sounds wacky, but if you've been behind the curtain you know what this means — the puppets communicate with their handlers more intimately than they do the audience. The more attuned to the puppet the puppeteer becomes, the better the performance. And by the end of the show, the puppet receives all the adulation, while the puppeteer is the same Peter Parker schmuck everyone knows on the street — but he has that magical, near secret modality, that creative intimacy in which he can get lost.

I miss that.

Anyway — in an alternate universe there is an alternate version of myself that met this universe's Peter Schumann and joined his Bread & Puppet Theatre.
“We are the Bread & Puppet Theater because we offer good old sourdough rye bread together with a great variety of puppetshows, some good, some not so good, but all for the good and against the bad. The art of puppetry helps women, men and children alike to overcome the established order and the obsessive submission to its politics and consequent brutalities.” 
– Peter Schumann
Schumann's gig is belligerently artistic in a manner that eschews FINE art — “These puppets are all made from garbage.” It is political in its horrified response to the damage political identity wreaks on individuals and community. It is religious in its reverence for the sacred and its impatience with formal ritual.
I have probably surpassed the age of guru-submission, but I thoroughly grokked David Cayley's Puppet Uprising: The Art of Peter Schumann's Bread & Puppet Theatre, over here. I will not be running off to join the circus, but I could envision a road trip to a remote museum filled with garbage.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Barnes, Kerr, Wittgenstein, Grayling: Ottawa in the spring

I'm staring at two books I bought in late spring, one I finished quickly, the other I hope to (re)open soon — Julian Barnes' The Only Story and Wittgenstein: A Very Short Introduction by A.C. Grayling.
I got them both at Perfect Books — in Ottawa, where I accompanied my wife on a business trip. While she did the pro thing, I shuffled around town and bumped through establishment doorways like this one.
I knew I was going to polish off the Barnes novel — if E.L. Doctorow is the most partially-read author on my shelves, Julian Barnes qualifies as among the most fully-read. I've never had trouble finishing a book by him. The “lesser” stuff, the highbrow stuff — it all grabs and sustains my interest. The Only Story concerns a young man who falls for a woman old enough to be his mother, in '60s suburban England — lovely review by Michael Czobit over here. So yes: easily devoured. Now to Grayling and Wittgenstein.

I last wrestled with Ludwig Wittgenstein some 25 years ago. And what I call “wrestling” is nothing any self-respecting academic would deign to recognize — one or two long walks after reading, some notes tentatively scratched into my journal. But then it was time to chase down the next paying gig.
Throw in a visit to Haus Wittgenstein, and we're done.
I did a double take when I first saw this fetchingly slender book. I don't know much about Wittgenstein, but I do know he defies summary — “short” or otherwise. Still, if anyone can take a commendable stab at it, it would be A.C. Grayling, another Brit whose writing I've enjoyed over the years. I picked it up and made my way to the cash register.
Lovely photo, Jordana!
Another reason for the Grayling/Wittgenstein purchase: I felt compelled to buy something Philip Kerr related — Perfect Books put a “RIP Philip Kerr” sign beneath their selection of Kerr's Bernie Gunther mysteries. This was the first I'd heard of Kerr's passing. In '92 Kerr wrote A Philosophical Investigation, a futuristic thriller (set in 2013!) that had a serial killer protagonist named Wittgenstein who hunted down other potential serial killers, while conducting interviews with the detective trying to identify and bring him in. I am nowhere near as fond of that book as I am of Berlin Noir, but I already owned the published Gunther novels so this tenuous philosophy connection was just further motivation to pass Grayling's book over to the cashier.

“Yes, I'm sorry,” said my book-steward, when I asked about Kerr. “He died a couple of months ago. There's apparently one more Bernie Gunther novel in the pipeline, due to be published soon.”

I returned home and retrieved the Gunther novels I'd started but hadn't finished — Kerr was closing in on Doctorow, frankly. His stand-alone novels usually left me cool — with one exception — while the later Gunther novels had lost the fever-dream of the original trilogy and showed occasional signs of writer-weariness.
To wit.
Still, Kerr had a definite lock on his protagonist's voice, and it remains music to my inner ear. Gunther surveys the scene around him — Weimar Germany, Nazi Germany, the retreat from Stalingrad, the Nazi flight to South and Central America, etc — and asks, “Surely we are above all this?” He also looks within, and concludes, “No. No, none of us is.” A POV that can't help but feel just a little timely.

Now I am finishing those novels, and wishing Kerr was still around to write more. Alas.

Anyway, the stand-alone that really stuck to my ribs is The Second Angel, which readers seem to have limited use for. Hopefully I'll revisit it and do a little excavating here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Does Star Wars need saving?

J.C. Macek III asks, “Can Star Wars be saved?”

I didn't think it was a franchise that needed saving — one so-so box office return hardly spells inevitable doom, to my mind — but it's entirely possible I'm wrong.

Star Wars is a massive intellectual property — not counting the movies, there are several TV series, voluminous (and on-going) comic book runs, video games and, of course, an expanding library of novels set in the expanded universe.

The catch to its saleability, however, is that its appeal is almost strictly North American. Unlike its rival/bedmate, the Marvel Comics Universe, the international audience for the Star Was Universe is scant to the point of insignificance. So if a Star Wars film tanks at home, it tanks — period.

That means Star Wars is losing its audience.

Disney does not want that.

Macek's screed is predominantly a rant — but an exceedingly well-informed rant. The points he scores are criticisms that never would have occurred to me because I haven't read more than a handful of the expanded universe novels. In a throw-away comment in my review of The Last Jedi I said, “If you have a jones for thematic exploration, you'll love it; if consistent world-building is more your thing, this movie will make you crazy.”
To wit.
Continuity and consistency are a very big deal to Macek, and I think his is a voice that ought to be considered by the suits at the whiteboard. I flip-flop rather egregiously on the issue of continuity. If the visual panache is sweeping enough and delivers emotional punch, I'll give continuity concerns a pass. If the heartstrings aren't tugged, I suddenly get tetchy about continuity.

I'm a hypocrite, in other words (what else is new?). But follow the money. Listen to Macek.

Also, listen to SWU continuity cop Leland Chee. Keep this guy in the boardroom and mebbe ask him which of the expanded universe properties resonate (hey, you recently acknowledged the value of The Clone Wars — now that's what I'm talking about!). Those are the elements, I would think, that you want to bring in and nurture.

“I was writing about self-deception, and deceiving myself while I was doing it.”

Logged in last week to see a picture of my friend situated beneath the crummiest headline possible. Now his family, colleagues and friends — including me — are recalibrating.

I have been listening to this collection of 24 T Bone Burnett songs — a lot.

“I’ve written a lot of really tough songs; I’ve been really tough on my characters a lot of times. But at the same time I know that any discussion of morality begins with one’s self, and the person I was really dealing with in all those songs was myself.”*
Burnett’s reticence toward these songs contributes to their draw, for me.

Some of his ambivalence (to put it mildly) has to do with production issues — of the eight songs he included in his 40 song retrospective from 2006, Burnett went back into the studio and painstakingly re-recorded five.
But Burnett’s aversion to revisiting the rest of this material feels more personal. He seems to dislike the young punk situated in that particular time and place, the dude who had the brass to give direct expression to his darkest shadows and commit it all to the reel-to-reel.
“All these songs are about ridiculous people. ‘Strange Combination’ is about an awful person. [‘Amnesia And Jealousy (Oh! Lana!)’] is about a terrible person. ‘Having A Wonderful Time, Wish You Were Her’ is a completely sardonic song addressed to a phony lover. The only thing close to redeeming is ‘My Life And The Women Who Lived It,’ but even the title is kind of a horrible thought.
“Is there a moment of light on this record? I don’t think so. I was just starting to come out of a dark personal time, and was working these things out of my system. My original title was Beneath The Trap Door. That’s how it felt.”**
Ridiculous, terrible people — people I can nevertheless to some degree recognize within myself. Pretty much exactly what I need to hear right now.


*Blog heading and LA Times quote are from T Bone Burnett: A Life In Pursuit, Lloyd Sachs.

**Liner notes to the 2007 re-release of Trap Door/Proof Through The Night/Behind The Trap Door.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Facebook sucks — do you have a newsletter?

Facebook seems to have reached some sort of tipping-point.
Maybe not this bad. But still...
I don't think there's any need for me to go over the scary headlines about the evil unleashed on this fair planet by the blue-and-white behemoth — heritage media claims of FB's villainy and calumny strike me as just a tad overblown. My beef with Zuckerberg is personal. The worst shift in Facebook isn't just that it's become a platform strictly for “The Olds,” but that we Olds have become the shrill, reactionary nitwits we once thought the exclusive domain of extreme youth. You made it possible, Zuck — well done!

And speaking as someone who can appreciate an economical line of code — who are the engineers who came up with the Facebook feed algorithm? These people have somehow zeroed in on delivering me only the stuff I have absolutely no interest in — what a rare, miraculous feat!

I miss email.

Oh, sure — we still have it. But our exchanges on it have become truncated and perfunctory — inadequate, really. The digital revolution seems to make every human interaction inadequate.

Remember the early days of email? It was like opening a letter you'd received in your mailbox, only better.

No, seriously — back in the days of pen and paper, receiving a good letter might inspire you to respond in kind. But the odds were against it. You had to find your own pen and paper. Then you had to sit at a table and think. And write.

Email was better. You had the letter right there in front of you, provoking all manner of thought and emotion. And you didn't have an excuse to not respond — while you were reading, the means to respond was physically at your fingertips. Your fingers might never fly as quickly as your thoughts, but they often came close. Revisionist Mennonite history, beach party movies, gloriously awful Christmas music, erotic kung-fu fan-fic generated by the Sunday funnies — anything could trigger a voluminous epistolary exchange that might run for days or weeks at a time.

Our species never got closer to a true meeting of two or more minds than during the early days of email.

There's no going back, of course — the promise of email has been eviscerated by the anxiety of the present. As has the initial promise of Facebook.

Beloved Facebook peeps — I apologize. You've been posting some amazing links, beautiful pictures, moving stories. I know I haven't been hitting “Like” nearly as often as I should. But the truth is if I have to search for it — if it doesn't show up in my feed, because Zuck's algorithm doesn't think it's worth his time — I'm not gonna look at it. Please forgive me.

And I know that is just as true for you also.
I want to see pictures of your family, the cover of the book you're reading during vacation, the band that's got you pumped. It'd be great if I could get a quick update on what you're doing — doesn't need to be more than a word or four (“Getting married! So exciting!” (with accompanying picture, of course)). Doesn't have to be more than once a week, or even once a month — unless you're keen to do more, in which case go for it.

If only there was an alternative to Facebook.

Oh, but there is — the newsletter.

I've subscribed to dozens of newsletters over the years — I've probably unsubscribed from a few dozen also. But if the tone is engaging (read: “personal”) and there exists at least the possibility, if not the probability, of surprise, then I want that newsletter in my email box.

For my virtual money, nobody does this better than Warren Ellis.

When it comes to pro writing, the guy is killer prolific — I could never hope to keep up with his output, and usually resign myself to sampling the occasional finished comic (James Bond: Vargr was a welcome palliative to the last three movies, and it's lovely that Ellis' early masterpiece Ultimate Galactus (which has subsequently gone on to influence everything) is widely available thanks to the webz).

But I look forward to his Sunday evening newsletter with the same anticipation I had as a child waiting for Hymn Sing to end so The Wonderful World of Disney could begin.

Not sure why, exactly. Ellis chatters about stuff I can only dimly relate to. But he's pleasant about it. He's like a Mr. Rogers for the weird — and I want to be his neighbor.
Although that business about "good fences" probably applies.
Anyhoo, his is the direction I hope to take this blog, at least for the time being. Wind seems to have left my writerly sails — not entirely (obviously) but certainly quite significantly. I shall let them luff whilst I (hopefully) attend to the personal work necessary. I'm still committed to weekly updates, but they might be pictures of a book off my shelf, or a CD I'm currently keen on, with maybe one or two links that have me cogitating.

In the meantime, give some thought to your own newsletter. Then let me know when you take the plunge.

Facebook sucks. We've got the means to do better — so ... why not?