Thursday, March 14, 2019

Yesterday's Sonic Landscape, Today and Tomorrow: Tom Petty, T Bone Burnett

When Tom Petty died in October '17 I figured a career retrospective was likely in the pipeline. All the old hits remastered to please the fading ears of boomers like myself — even though I do not consider myself a fan, this was a proposition I could buy into. So I did. And this week I received my first Tom Petty CD.
Two of 'em, actually.
Rolling Stone claims Petty has 50 great songs, but I found 38 to be about right for a project like this. He doesn't wear out his welcome after two CDs and Petty's late-career wistfulness sets a fitting, elegiac tone that washes over the whole thing and settles it nicely. Cameron Crowe submits a gloss with a few choice quotes that is sufficient unto the day (I wish Mikal Gilmore had been given the assignment, but oh well). As for the re-mastering...

It is a relief to have sound-files as fat with distinction as the current technology allows. But it is an incredibly bright sound. I guess boomer ears all fade differently — Donald Fagen, a notorious audiophile, prefers to release his current stuff to this particular standard as well, so it can't be hitting everyone's ears as unpleasantly as it hits mine. For me the effect is somewhat akin to hearing a child play the triangle — a little aural distance becomes a highly coveted quality.

At home, when I'm wearing the expensive, bulky headphones I can tweak things until they sound better. In the car, not so much. So it goes.

*****

T Bone Burnett is infamously tetchy about sound, and I'm wondering if his ears aren't fading in the same direction mine are.

Burnett's Facebook profile (Just kidding, just kidding...)

Back when he re-recorded a bunch of material from Proof Through The Night I wasn't sure I saw the point of it. But I recently made a playlist that juxtaposed the original Proof songs with the re-recordings. Played back-to-back, and hitting ears that have been assaulted for nearly 55 years, I found I generally preferred the more recent versions.

Anyway, in a terrific interview he recently gave to CBC's Tom Power, Burnett claims he's spent his life trying to recapture the sounds he heard in the Skyliner Ballroom in Fort Worth TX, back in the early '60s. I can hear that, and — because it's not unbearably bright and tingly — I can also really dig it. The full interview, with tonnes of juicy reminiscences and soundclips, can be streamed here or downloaded here. And he's got a new album of original material — The Invisible Light: Acoustic Space — coming out April 12. Spring cannot come fast enough.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Winnipeg Punk Menno

At some point in my grade 10 year — generated, if memory serves, by the unexpected results of one of my mother's haircuts — I determined I was “punk.”

Winnipeg, 1981. I didn't know any punks personally, which was an asset — I could define “punk” on my own terms. I began collecting records.

I started, naturally, with the Christian Rock version of punk. Barnabas' first album was a lot of fun, and surprisingly accomplished, musically speaking. Aesthetically speaking, their attire raised the inevitable question: how much more punk can you get than bubblegum-coloured trousers?
Answer: none. None more punk.
The Canadian Bible Society also sold a few select British oddities that seemed to fit the bill — evangelical coffee-house acts with punk names like Ishmael United, The Bill Mason Band, Andy McCarroll & Moral Support, Rev Counta & The Speedos (another Ishmael project, it turned out). I listened to all of 'em.

At some point, though, I had to gamble my after-school bus-transfer and seek out Winnipeg's Pyramid Records.

Mid-winter. Cold (understatement). Tiny, second-floor room in the bowels of the Exchange. Filled with actual punks, reverently thumbing through the stacks while the snow and sand slowly dropped off their Army Surplus boots and pooled on the hardwood floor.

Import album pricing was a touch dearer than the Christian stuff I was buying, so I was mostly there for the magazines — Slash, from Los Angeles was especially cool (more girls, for one thing). As for the music, Pyramid introduced me to punk I genuinely enjoyed listening to — it was the minority, to be honest, but it was there. X, The Gun Club, The Blasters — the entire roster signed to Slash Records, more or less. L.A. Punk.

This was NOT the punk scene in Winnipeg (which existed, pretty much as described). The stuff I liked was a little too twangy, or bluesy, or . . . well, take The Blasters, for instance. How was that even punk?

Over the next 35 years I was pleasantly educated in the larger punk scene — examples herehere and here — but even today my most romantic association with the genre is centered in Los Angeles, 1979. Why, that's the era and locale Barnabas originally hailed from!

As did The Flesh Eaterswho have re-formed, with their original line-up, and are hitting the road for some select locations. Dave Alvin, Bill Bateman, John Doe — yikes. These are guys whose individual post-punk projects are still a matter of deep personal interest — including Steve Berlin, probably the only Rock 'n' Roll sax player I can say that of.

It's lovely Chris D. still has his voice. Sounds like it's lovely he's breathing a-tall — recovered sobriety is a beautiful thing. I Used To Be Pretty is a great album title for grizzled veterans, and A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die retains its happy-making powers, even after all these years. But I don't see a road-trip in the tea-leaves for yours truly. Unless they show up in Winnipeg. Who knows? It could be the last surviving members of Winnipeg's REAL punks might show up for it.

Post-script: huh. Looks like even the guys who got punk rolling can't even agree on "what is punk?" And hey: turns out Pyramid Records was owned and operated by one Don Unrau — now there's a name that's as Mennonite as Jereewen und Schmaunt (pork cracklings and cream)!

Saturday, March 02, 2019

“Damn everything, but the circus.”

AndrĂ© Previn has died. Today's “youngs” think of him, if at all, as the momentary husband of Mia Farrow and the adoptive father of Soon-Yi Previn — the latter who, were we to keep track of statements made in the heat of emotionally volatile moments, he said “does not exist.” Life and drama and moral affront, eh? I suppose it all boils down to the standards one sets, really, and Previn set his in music.

It is interesting to me that Previn's creative work — the concert performances, the reams of compositions, the fluidity he had across genres, etc — all seemed so effortless. Along with his evident technical virtuosity, Previn also presented a decidedly visual ease — a plasticity of mastery suggesting mastery in all domains.
No "mastery" outfitting the kids, alas.
For the LIFE Magazine set Previn embodied the suave, worldly 20th Century cosmopolitan male — catnip for suburban dads and moms doing a poor job of sorting out midlife confusion, back in '69. Today we are fortunate Previn's cultural achievements were lofty enough to slip him past the notice of our Neo-Puritan Twitter Inquisitors — he dies as he lived, a man of ease, if not leisure.

Personally, I love AndrĂ© Previn's jazz — especially Duet, with Doris Day. Do not deprive yourself.

*****

Okay, now what do you REALLY think — is it time to break up with the Internet?

I flatter myself that my awareness of the internet's perils is above-average. But Avery Erwin's piece caught me short on some horrifyingly crucial elements — which means I don't likely know the half of it. Unplugging now, unplugging now, unplugging . . .

*****

NO WAIT! Ken Nordine also died this week.
You know his voice.
Nordine's wasn't just a scripted mouth — he loved to improvise, to perform, to contribute to the scene. For me, the best thing he did is the first thing of his I heard: Ken Nordine's spin on “Hi-diddle-dee-dee,” a salute to Walt Disney. Listening to it yet again it I can't imagine a more apt take on the current state of affairs, out here in the wobbly West. Nordine's portion of the medley is only the first two minutes. Skip the rest, if you like. But please put on your headphones, turn it up and give it a listen — see if the hairs on the back of your neck aren't standing on end by the time the thunder clashes.

Monday, February 25, 2019

That damn book

The author is a prat.
No, really.
Readers less-than-well-versed in Islamic histories and traditions find the book baffling and tedious (I never finished it). Even readers informed and deeply fascinated by these matters come away from the novel non-plussed.

And yet it is probably the single novel published within my lifetime that has altered history the most — largely by people who haven’t read so much as one bloody word of it.

Bruce Fudge, over at Aeon, presents a terrific overview of the novel, the “affair” and subsequent cultural outcomes.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Talking to myself

I've got a few scattered links that have deposited irritants around which my consciousness salivates, in aid of digestion or -- who knows? -- producing a pearl of great price. Or at least an object of personal fascination.

As has become the norm lately, Warren Ellis is the chief provocateur. His latest newsletter (hey, why aren't we all doing this?) sees him enthuse about a new book. Take it away, Mr. Ellis:
THE WORST IS YET TO COME by Peter Fleming does what it says on the tin.  It's a set of thoughts and survival tips on... well, it all starts when Fleming goes, as many people do, to view a cupboard that someone's offering for rent as an apartment in London:
That awful apartment told me something. Neoliberal capitalism had probably run its course, spawning progeny it could no longer protect itself from. The constellation of possibilities that once flourished in cities like London had vanished. There were no antibodies left. Capitalism was undoing itself at nearly every turn. A kind of neo-Feudalism was on the march. Perhaps we were witnessing the birth of post-capitalism after all, not a clean and better alternative to the system, but (rather paradoxically) a much worse version of it, one that will make the “Trump Years” look like a tiptoe through the tulips. 
My theory is this. Most advanced industrial societies have actually outlived the principles of capitalism and are busy transitioning into something else. It is still too early to say what that “something else” might be. But we do know the break won’t be clean. So the post-capitalist future we should prepare for will be no classless utopia. The worst features of capitalism will be amplified and applied reductio ad absurdum, coalescing around the return of preindustrial norms of authority and an incredible polarisation of wealth. 
Donald Trump, Brexit, the impending environmental eco-blitz (or what NASA calls a “Type-L” collapse given the role played by elites) and the prospect of another Radiohead album give the appearance that things couldn’t possibly get worse. And yet, I disagree. They probably will.
It's cheerful, yes.  It's also great fun to read, free of jargon, and very clear about where it's coming from and where it's going. It is, in some ways, a collation and re-statement of a lot of themes that have emerged over the last while, but it has new ideas too. I am very grateful for a book of this kind that does not also do one all over itself about the genius of Karl Marx.  Also, goddamn, any work of political economics that talks about WG Sebald has my immediate vote.
Ooo -- Sebald! Yes, this is worth a closer look.

Ellis also advocates for the resurrection of the RSS reader -- so if you haven't yet subscribed to his newsletter, give it a go and see what you think.

Elsewhere:
  • Chris Fleming's (any relation?) amusing and provocative thoughts about Theoretical Cool are worth the long-ish read. I'm a little peeved I didn't post this earlier, as I stumbled across it a few days before ALD linked. But that's what happens when you occasionally allow your analog consciousness sway over its digital alter-ego.
  • Sven Birkerts' My Sky Blue Trades has sat beside the bed for some years now. As of this writing, its melancholic undertow is in sync with my own, allowing me to slip past the book's faults -- I hope to finish it today. Birkerts' The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate Of Reading In An Electronic Age is the stronger work -- it turns 25 this year.
  • Tomi Ungerer died earlier this month. The Hat --  in which a dissolute veteran's life is transformed triumphantly by the sudden appearance of the titular hero -- was one of my favourite childhood books (also here). But Ungerer's work was not merely aimed at children -- oh, no no no. The man's ouevre was, shall we say, quite robust. I got quite a kick out of him. The gate to his homesite is SFW, but proceed any further and you are on your own. Say -- The Hat's objet d'affection bears a passing resemblance to Mr. Ellis, does he not?

Friday, February 15, 2019

Promissory notice

Works are a little gummed-up. I'll get on it and hopefully get something up early next week.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

“Dave who?”

There's a New Yorker article that got me scanning our bookshelves. I was wondering what might be the most recent “It” novel in my possession that reached #1 on the NYT bestseller list. Near as I can tell, it's probably Jennifer Egan's A Visit From The Goon Squad.
Next to other au courant titles, including Neuromancer and Cheever's shorts.
Cretinous characters behaving cretinously, sweeping themes of innocence lost, youth vampirically feasted upon and betrayed — “Time's a goon, right?” — all of it steeped in rock 'n' roll. Good book. It came out in hardcover in 2011. I have the paperback, likely purchased the following year, when I was 47. Five or six years ago, in other words.

Back to the New Yorker story, a.k.a., the latest episode of “I'm not just getting older — I am getting OLD.”

This was the first I'd heard of NYT bestselling “It” novelist Dan Mallory.

In my 40s I could have told you his name and the title of his book, and probably summed up the plot in a way that didn't give up the game. In my 30s I would have made a point of checking out the book, and following up the who's who list of literati surrounding him. In my 20s I would have read the book and recited what was known about the author — because I made it my business to know about all the authors who made it to the NYT bestseller list.

But I am in my 50s.

Yesterday I read Ian Park's terrific expose of this young writer's bizarre cons, carried off with evident personal charm. The piece resonated with me — deeply, in fact — and yet one day after I finished it I still could not tell you the name of this guy. I might have settled on the title of his book — something about a woman . . . on a train? In a window? In a window on a train? A woman watching a train through a window?

Dan Mallory. There you go.

I think much of what grabbed me about Park's depiction of Mallory were characteristics I recognized in myself, when I was young and hungry and spending what little discretionary income I had playing SASE Roulette. It is perhaps difficult for me to judge from this distance of years, but I believe there was a vulnerable point in my mid-20s where I would have said and done just about anything to get into the authorial spotlight.

Writing and “being an author” are concerns that quickly conflate, for young fellas in their 20s. We settle on someone who's made a big splash, then puzzle over how best to emulate without aping. Bukowski was popular with some of my chums. Mallory's star to steer by appears to be — eep! — Patricia Highsmith's fictional psychopath Ripley.

In my case I was preoccupied with Robert Zimmerman's antics in his early 20s. I had the good fortune of a) not liking myself in that mode, and b) being surrounded by friends who called me out on it. Those are friends you keep — close.

Today there is an entire “call-out culture,” and nobody is your friend. I doubt a new Bob Dylan would get very far in the present environment — at this point it is difficult to discern what we as culture-hungry consumers gain and lose by such developments.

I'll admit I'm quietly hoping Don Maloney recovers. I may even make a point of buying his next book, just to encourage the poor guy.

Friday, February 01, 2019

I miss the magazine rack

Expanding on this sentiment would be akin to this lament.
All I will add is that with the digitization of all things magaziney, we have arrived at an aesthetic moment when ALL publications look alike — for digital reasons (naturally).

Reconsider my two purchases from last year.
The evident contrast — Dark vs. Light; grim, ersatz Satanist vs. hammy, committed Catholic — relies on an identical layout: large solitary figure set against solid backdrop and minimal type. As for the interior content, the trained focus on genre distinction (“Extreme” music/culture vs. Pop) is equally superficial; the political-ideological acumen of the two magazines is wholly identical.

And that is perhaps the apocalypse of the digital revolution — a reduction of aesthetic and intellectual content to the simplest consumable unit.

But never mind: check out Spencer McDonald's fabulous photo of a Seattle magazine stand.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Whither the Magazine Rack?

The airport magazine rack used to be a thing of glory — not quite so glorious as the one in the city bus depot, perhaps, but still mightily impressive. Tier upon tier of selection, including exotic European variants of popular Yankee glossies.
In this most recent return to the Canadian prairies I was struck by what an emaciated shadow of itself the airport magazine rack had become. The Relay shops at Toronto Pearson International, for example, all had the exact same selection regardless of whether they were single-staffed booths in the hall to the gate or larger, multi-staffed venues located in the various hubs.
“Hundreds” of mastheads have been pared down to a few dozen. And once-popular variants like the British editions of Men's Health, GQ or Esquire are nowhere to be seen.

I was struck, but not surprised. My own magazine habits have altered radically. Ten years ago it wasn't uncommon of me to lay down money for a dozen titles in a given month. Today, a quick glance at the living room coffee table reveals the two most recent magazines purchased are . . . Revolver (June/July 2018) and Rolling Stone (September 2018). Both publications committed to a massive redesign, tooling up into a bizarre “prestige” format — super-high-quality paper, larger format, photo-heavy, etc.
We can now add the January 2019 issue of Harper's Magazine. “Donald Trump is a Good President”? Alrighty then — persuade me, Michel.

More anon.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

"'Man' is obviously a problematic term"

Wup -- looks like David Cayley's been posting again. Note to self. Illich is someone I'm keen to revisit.