Saturday, August 24, 2019

Subscription by conviction

“I’m thinking about resubscribing to The Atlantic,” said my father. “But I’m not sure if I should do that, or give The New Yorker a try.”

I was surprised. “My last magazine subscription expired just over a year ago,” I said. “Maclean’s Magazine.”

“Well, I’ve been convicted to do it, really. I read a piece by a Christian writer who argued against the expectation of ‘free content.’ We should be willing to pay for what we read — ‘The laborers who mowed your fields,’ and all that. I visit both those sites with some regularity, so they’re the ones getting my money currently.”

Now I’m the one convicted.

Friday, August 23, 2019

The Book of Weirdo

The Book of Weirdo: A Retrospective of R. Crumb's Legendary Humor Comics AnthologyThe Book of Weirdo: A Retrospective of R. Crumb's Legendary Humor Comics Anthology by Jon B Cooke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book is light on art, heavy on “my interactions with Crumb.”

There are good reasons for both. Crumb, who prior to this magazine had never edited anything more commercial than his brothers’ homemade comic books, put himself at the helm of Weirdo and declared that all contributing artists would retain complete and exclusive rights to their work. FWIW I am fully on board with this element of the Weirdo credo. Unfortunately, that means the book I would love to read — an anthology of Weirdo anthologies — would be prohibitively expensive. Instead, this lovely bound book of high-stock glossy paper offers us little more than (heh!) crumbs of what made Weirdo weird.

We get photos of the various contributors, some samples of the work, more than a few brand-spanking-new artistic tributes to the magazine and the people who made it. And lots and lots of stories about what it was like to work for and with Robert Crumb.

Crumb’s a legitimate draw — larger-than-life and twice as charming/galling. But anyone who has followed his grotesquely confessional work or watched Terry Zwigoff’s documentary is already intimately familiar with the direction these accounts take.

In the best of all possible worlds the magazine rack would be regularly larded with anthologies of Weirdo, the way MAD re-packaged and saturated the market with content from the 60s to the early 90s. In this world, Gaines was the savvier publisher, who paid his artists top-market value — and not a penny more. We make do with this, because we have to.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 16, 2019

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee seems to be having (another) moment.
It's 1974, and suddenly the nation's coffee tables are missing two legs...
The South China Morning Post reports that the Hong Kong protesters are consciously heeding Lee’s oracular advice: “Be water, my friend.”*

Quartz picked up on this and devoted yesterdays daily bulletin to Lee. It’s quite entertaining and typically chock-full of interesting tangential links. Even this 70s kid** who kung-fued up a storm with everybody else in the schoolyard picked up some historical tidbits hitherto unknown.

Lee’s legacy is front-and-centre for another reason, of course: Quentin Tarantino’s brief, less-than-woke Bruce Lee vs. Cliff Booth skit, in Once Upon a Time...  in Hollywood.

It’s not for me to answer the racism charge, but Walter Chaw’s take on the scene strikes me as remarkably generous.*** Full disclosure: there were maybe a dozen of us at the afternoon matinee I caught, and nobody laughed at Lee’s comeuppance. Which raises another reason why I dislike the film — it is grievously low on giggles.****

As for the Lee family’s complaint that Tarantino has supplied us with a caricature of the man — it’s a fair enough assessment. In fact everyone in this movie is a caricature — doe-eyed Sharon Tate, resentful out-played-player Steve McQueen, hustler Marvin Schwarz, etc. As for Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), it’s hard to locate whether it’s a caricature of a sixties swaggering stunt-man, or of the actor who’s portraying him. The only character who (momentarily) slips the bonds of caricature is Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), a Hollywood has-been who rediscovers his soul, such as it is, when he finally settles down, digs deep, and does the work he’s paid for. Once that’s out of the way, it’s back to caricature for him, too.

No doubt I’d be discomfited with seeing a caricature of my own beloved pop. But as both Chaw and the Quartz selection of links make clear, Lee was an indefatigable self-promoter, who could talk trash with the best of them. Hey, the dude was a human being — gentle acknowledgement of same is a good thing.

Wait — did I just defend Tarantino? (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar isn't buying it.)

*My friend John Longhurst points out an element to the protests unremarked upon by MSM: protesters are singing a Christian praise anthem from the 70s.

**I never owned the poster, but I had plenty of friends who did. They also bought the Lee bio-pulps that seemed to show up in the drugstore magazine stand every month or so.

***Turns out there was indeed a stunt-man/Bruce Lee dust-up that Lee conceded.

****Still in the interest of full disclosure: I will admit the prolonged agony of Dalton’s well-earned pre-shoot hangover had me in stitches. What can I say? I’m a fool for slapstick.

Sunburn, Laura Lippman

She has a plan, of sorts — but her feelings for him are an unanticipated complication.

He has a boss who hired him to stick close to her and get the dirt. Well he’s “close,” alright.

They both know the noose is getting tighter. What are they going to do? What are they capable of?

Laura Lippman’s Sunburn is a masterclass in the anatomy of human desire. Like most readers, Lippman’s protagonists and secondary characters are convinced they’ve got just about everything figured out. People are predictable, right? Almost pathetically so.

But then someone comes along who tilts the heart and subsequent motivations in an unexpected direction, and nobody’s too sure about anything anymore.

Wielding a unique subtlety of insight, Lippman deftly proves it is the familiar stories that can yield the greatest surprises.

Friday, August 09, 2019

The Blues: To Deal With

Last night I got home, peeled the celophane off Peter Frampton, All Blues and introduced it to the media player while I prepped supper.

It’s accomplished stuff, of course — Frampton still has chops, and he’s assembled some old hands who have done good work for a long time. But midway through “She Caught The Katy” my thoughts turned glum, as they seem so prone to do these days.

He approaches the American Songbook with a laudable admixture of curiosity and respect, and the results are solid. And yet . . . look at what once was.

In his youth he wrote and performed songs everyone wanted to hear. He was glorious. And sure, he remains remarkably trim, but there’s no mistaking the voice has aged along with the rest of him. Now he is, as Bonnie Raitt sings, “standing with the rest of us/who used to rule the world.”

Circle of life, baby. And I was taking it personally. To hold off the inner torpor, I shifted my focus to identifying what I could learn to love. Frampton’s solos are good — no, great (dude, c’mon!). He favours slow-hand over shredding, which immediately earns my unwavering respect. With some diligence I could probably pick up a few licks and use 'em for my personal explorations next to the piano, always a welcome element for the others living in this . . .

Then the brush-work began, followed by a familiar three-note progression. I left the cutting board and re-consulted the CD jewel box. Track six . . . wait: this is “All Blues”? 'Cos this “All Blues” is actually THAT “All Blues” — from Miles Davis, Kind Of Blue.

I’d never heard it done on guitar before. This was sharp.

Suddenly my mood did a complete about-face.

I realized I was feeling . . . grateful.

Grateful that Frampton was still at it, that he went and did this particular song, foolhardy though that might appear. Grateful to have my morose self-absorption interrupted by something beautiful and unexpected. Grateful to still appreciate, in this day and at my age, actual grace-notes.

Grateful for the gift. Thank you, sir.


It is a unique thrill watching young talent come into its own, no?

So many youngsters take flight and stay in a holding pattern just a few feet off the floor, until boredom with the road takes over and they find their way back to less sensational jobs. But every once in a while a kid comes along who keeps reaching and stretching until (holy cow!) suddenly they’re in a feedback chamber where everything makes sonic sense in a way nobody expected. Now everything around them sounds new.

That seems to be where Samantha Fish is at right now. She is an absolute power-house vocalist and guitarist, who, in the last decade or so has taken complete command of the stage. She gets better with every album, and her newest, Kill Or Be Kind, seems poised to become THAT album.

When “Bullet-Proof” got its internet release I gave it a listen and thought, “How great would it be to watch her do her thing at this particular moment?” I checked her site for tour dates and . . .

. . . she was due to take the stage at the Tremblant Blues Festival in just a few hours.

It was too short notice. But now Tremblant is on my radar. Though I’m not much for festivals anymore — I did enough sitting on a blanket in a mosquito-infested field when I was in my 20s, thank you — Tremblant might actually be in my purview of interest. Blues acts from all over Canada, sharing the stage with international headliners. Book early enough and lodging will be comfortable.

Next year in Tremblant?


Old white fellas singing the Blues:
Still alive: a good thing.
Still young:
  • Tedeschi Trucks Band, someone I’d definitely pay to see. I recently picked up Live From The Fox Oakland. I’m loving the music, and saving the DVD for an evening when I can put on the headphones and disappear into my faux-Eames chair.
Not blues:
  • The Bird & The Bee cover Van Halen. Strictly Diamond Dave material (of course!).

Friday, August 02, 2019

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

Three of us attended. And three of us thought it was a nearly complete waste of time.

A story-beat-free picture populated by dozens of mostly-pallid caricatures and one character.* I have coffee table books with more zip in 'em — and fewer feet.
"Dude, THIS is what the people are PAYING FOR!"
How three leaden hours of self-indulgent bloat could somehow manage to twitterpate so many critics-on-a-paycheque is beyond my ken. Maybe I am (could it be??) the one who's off-base?

*Leonardo DiCaprio applies an uncommon focus that, it must be said, salvages his role (if not the movie).

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The End of Weird

The local hardware store used to rent out DVDs. Once, when I was lining up at cash, the teenage girl ahead of me handed over the card for Ouija. “Not gonna see THAT,” said the teenage girl who took the card. “My Ouija experience was freaky enough, thank you!”

“Mine too!” said her co-worker, and there followed an animated discussion amongst the three young women.

I came home and mentioned the exchange to my (then) teenage daughters. Was this a common motif among their classmates?

Indeed it was all but universal.

I cleared my throat and encouraged them (yet again) to give this sort of thing a wide berth. Reassurances were made. Then one daughter piped up, “They think you and mom are members of a religious cult, you know.”

Who? Your friends?

“No — their parents.”

This village, which once hosted three robust Protestant congregations with towering brick edifices, plus a Baptist congregation in its more staid mid-20th Century house of worship, is now predominantly populated by assured “Nones.” Here, if the kids dust off the parental board-and-planchette for some Friday night frights, nobody remarks on it. However, tying your shoelaces and joining the Sunday remnant at your local mainline Protestant church?
Kinda culty.
Anyway, I’m reading Erik Davis’ High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience In The Seventies, and I’m . . . digging . . . it . . .

. . . more or less.

Some days more.

Other days less.

I listened to a bit of this podcast, and within the first 15 minutes Davis and his host reached the locus of my discontent with his entire project.

Cannabis is legal, but it’s strictly squaresville — for The Olds, daddy-o; meanwhile we’re microdosing our kids with LSD to ease their off-the-charts anxiety; mushroom tea? whatevs; Ayahuasca is a punchline; the One Percent have taken over Burning Man; gender and sexuality are increasingly splintered and specialized concerns — not only are kids not getting stoned, they’re not getting laid, the primary activity they are genetically hardwired to do at their age; comic book movies rule the cinema; our two leading public intellectuals are Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan . . .

Et fucking cetera.

If Fukuyama can pin “The End of History” to 1991, I will pin The End of Weird to a quarter-century later: 2016.

Davis’ book remains engaging and will be an easy finish, at which point I will speak further (furthur?). So far I’ve read the first third, dealing primarily with the McKenna brothers, whose psychonautic narratives whipsawed from free-association psychedelic imagery to super-precise “It’s Science!” deconstruction.

At some point between my grumpy jottings in the margins, I began mulling over the story of Fritz Gerlich.

Ron Rosenbaum devotes an entire chapter of Explaining Hitler to the story of “Fritz Gerlich and the Trial of Hitler’s Nose: In which we unearth a lost classic of Hitler explanation by a murdered explainer:
It still has the power to shock: Adolf Hitler married to a black bride. More than six decades after this extraordinary photocomposite image of Hitler in top hat and wedding tails, arm in arm with a black bride in a scene of wedding-day bliss, appeared on the front page of one of Munich’s leading newspapers, this mocking representation of Hitler — in a context of decapitation, miscegenation, transgressive sex, and violent defacement — still gives off an aura of recklessness, of danger. 
And, in fact, there can be little doubt that this sensational visual and verbal attack on Hitler did turn out to be dangerous, fatally so, to its creator, the courageous, possessed anti-Hitler journalist, Dr. Fritz Gerlich.
It is, like the rest of Rosenbaum’s book, a ripping read.
You want 'High Weirdness'?
But midway through the telling Rosenbaum recounts how Gerlich “the skeptical, Protestant, rationalist historian . . . the no-nonsense newspaper editor” gets “taken in by [a] primitive, bedridden, Catholic mystic whose own church was skeptical, who claimed she lived for years on no food but Eucharist wafers, who produced great gouts of blood in the pattern of Christ’s wounds,” etc.

Gerlich did indeed fall — deeply — under the sway of Therese Neumann, a Bavarian stigmatic who vigorously encouraged Gerlich’s antagonism of the F├╝hrer, to the point where Gerlich actually converted, shortly before his murder in Dachau.

Rosenbaum is flummoxed by this seemingly apparent con which lead to Gerlich’s very public change of heart, and asks Walter Schaber, a survivor of the Weimar press wars, if he has any explanation. Schaber’s reply is sobering.

Anyway, we haven’t really arrived at The End of Weird — indeed, things seem poised to become a great deal weirder. It is just that what used to be weird — the sex, the drugs, the rock ‘n’ roll and woo-woo stuff — now in hindsight seems fixedly bourgeois: little more than a tawdry scrim that distracted us from the true weirdness taking root all around, and within.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Rutger Hauer, 1944-2019

My favourite Rutger Hauer story comes from Jason Eisener, who directed Hauer in Hobo With A Shotgun (“A better poster than movie,” sez MZS, and I agree).

Eisener admits that once he landed Hauer for the title role, he basically blew his budget for the movie. Consequently most of the shooting was a fly-by-the-seat-of-everyone’s-pants exercise in minute-to-minute problem-solving.

Hauer, says Eisener, was completely into it. Difficulties with lighting and camera perspective were frequently solved by Hauer — “Oh, I’ve seen how you do this. Give me a second” — who gamely clambered into the rig and adjusted lights, reflectors, camera angles, etc etc etc.

Hauer’s thumbprint is probably larger in Hobo than it is in Blade Runner, but he will quite rightly be remembered for “Tears in the rain — time to die.”

I’m not sure why, but it gives me some pleasure to know he had a grandson. RIP, Rutger Hauer.

Favourite Rutger Hauer YouTube moments: Rutger Hauer keeps Max Headroom on his (non-existent) toes. Rutger Hauer shills for Guinness.
OK, now I'm not just thirsty, I'm ready to re-grow my mullet!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Your “quiet time”

It’s pretty important. But if you need help with that, this 40-second clip from Cornerstone Festival ‘03 should do the trick:

I had a dream recently where I kissed you on the forehead, and touched my hand to the side of your face.

I imparted advice as well, but it was pretty general stuff — basically, you have the capacity to invest more deeply in the lives of the people you love. Don’t be afraid, go on.

Truly, if you’ve ever commented here you were in it — or some version of you. Well — my SUBCONSCIOUS’ version of you, really. Which is my subconscious version of me, ergo advice to myself, which I would do well to heed, etc.

But I’m still going to make it about you. This internet web-thing — anyone who still has enough self-possession to take a half-step back can see it is thoroughly torqued to make every one of its users crazy angry.

Shut it off. Hang with a friend. Commit to your Quiet Time.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

Leonard Cohen, agony aunt

It is remarkable to me how (some) rock stars from my youth have aged into elder statespeople. Patti Smith, David Byrne and (especially) Nick Cave were super-edgy at one time — now they embody the calming voice of compassionate consideration.

More to be said, possibly, but for now here is a link to a complete transcription of the single “agony aunt” column Leonard Cohen wrote for Details magazine, in 1993 (shortly after releasing The Future).