Thursday, June 28, 2007

Miscellaneous Music Musings

A couple of years ago, a singer-songwriter friend of mine attracted the attention of one of the Big Labels. They offered her a whack of money upfront, plus a contract she could drive a truck through (her lawyer confirmed this). She signed on the dotted line. A few weeks later a big shot from New York graced our village with his presence.

He'd been in the scene since the 60s and had a million stories. I caught a few of them second-hand, the most amusing of which involved Paul McCartney. This was in the 80s, and Sir Paul was in NYC laying down some music for his yearly album. Things mustn't have been going as smoothly as he wanted, because he abruptly announced, "I think what this session requires is a large bottle of Jack Daniels." He signalled for the gopher, who trotted over. McCartney opened his wallet and fished out ... a five-dollar bill. "The largest bottle of Jack Daniels," he emphasized.

The gopher looked helplessly at the producer, who gently pulled the gopher aside and discretely told him to use the company credit card. Then off he went. Mr. New York's theory behind this episode was simply that it had been so very many years since McCartney had purchased anything with cash that he simply had no clue what a bottle of Jack Dans actually cost.

ANYWAY. It's been a couple of years since that contract was signed, and odds are the Big Label didn't quite manage to make my friend a spoken name in your household. I recently asked her what she thought of the industry. "The industry?!" She snorted. "The industry doesn't have a clue. It's in a complete free-fall."

Indeed. This is the record industry's worst year of sales to date. According to this Rolling Stone article: "The record companies have created this situation themselves," says Simon Wright, CEO of Virgin Entertainment Group, which operates Virgin Megastores. While there are factors outside of the labels' control -- from the rise of the Internet to the popularity of video games and DVDs -- many in the industry see the last seven years as a series of botched opportunities. And among the biggest, they say, was the labels' failure to address online piracy at the beginning by making peace with the first file-sharing service, Napster. "They left billions and billions of dollars on the table by suing Napster -- that was the moment that the labels killed themselves," says Jeff Kwatinetz, CEO of management company the Firm. "The record business had an unbelievable opportunity there. They were all using the same service. It was as if everybody was listening to the same radio station. Then Napster shut down, and all those 30 or 40 million people went to other [file-sharing services]."

I'd love to put the blame solely at the feet of record companies, but let's not forget that Metallica deserves some credit, too. Here's the notorious Napster Bad video (language warning). Non-metal-heads might require a little context: the metal scene of the 80s and 90s grew in large part from kids joining pen-pal lists and mailing each other mixed tapes of their favourite bands. There was a day when Metallica's Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield not only endorsed the practise, but did it themselves. Then Napster came along and performed this function with a vengeance. Ulrich and crew were clearly displeased with the way this cut into their still-considerable profit margin. They may have won in court and by some miracle retained their fanbase, but they loaded (pun intended) the torpedo which sank the industry.

I agree with the article's premise that suing Napster was a fatal tactical error. I also regard iTunes copy-protection as invasive and malign. But I make it a point to avoid file-sharing, choosing instead to pay for my music in the hope that the musicians will get a little coin for their product.

I'll bang the drum for eMusic, one more time. $10 a month gets you 30 downloads with no copy-protection or any other computer-fouling nonsense. And the sound quality of their mp3s is surprisingly fine.

True, I once lamented the "thin" sound of the mp3. I'd downloaded Beneath This Gruff Exterior by John Hiatt & The Goners. When I burned it to CD and played it back, I thought there was some sort of "space" missing in the overall sound. Could the bass have been richer? Was there some mid-range layering I was missing?

I loved the music, so I finally bought the CD and gave it a spin in the car stereo as I drove home. For the next 20 minutes I courted death by reckless driving as I fished out the official CD and plugged in the eMusic disc, then swapped them again, and again and again. There was no discernible difference in sound. At home I put them on the master stereo and did the same exercise. No difference. I put on the Sennheisers. Same as it ever was.

I performed another experiment: I extracted the first track from the CD and compared its file size as an OGG to the file size of eMusic's mp3: 4.4 MB to 5.6, respectively. I ripped the OGG to mp3, and the file size of that was 4.6 MB. I don't know what any of that means, except that I now discard the notion that studio CDs somehow possess a sound quality lacking in eMusic's mp3 files.

Lately I've been taking the greatest pleasure in rediscovering jazz music. Those jazz musicians -- particularly in the 50s and 60s, God love 'em -- sure didn't mind putting out albums with only four or five (very long) songs. For a subscriber, that's an incredible value. Take something like Miles Davis's Blue Moods. All Music says the disc set the standard for its day, but that at 26 minutes and 51 seconds, the CD isn't much of a value. So far as I'm concerned, that's just four downloads out of a monthly 30. That's less than $.60 a track. Consider me sold.

Alright, time to wrap this up. My aforementioned friend is Brooke Miller, and she's coming out with new music on Canada Day.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Firefly: I like it. She likes it. What went wrong?

While browsing about in one of the ubiquitous box stores, I noticed that Firefly: The Complete Series was being sold for a nickel shy of $20. “The Complete Series” sounds rather grand, but really we're talking about a total of 14 episodes since Fox TV canned the show after a single season of mediocre ratings. Still, twenty bucks is what some people charge for a single CD, so this looked like a value I shouldn't pass up.

In concept Firefly is as pure a Space Opera as you can get: a group of misfit smugglers pilot an old ship on the fringes of the galaxy, trying to avoid run-ins with the law. It's even got six shooters and horses, which should qualify it for a whole new genre: the Space Horse Opera. And I'll be hog-tied and warp-fried if the whole durn hash doesn't work.

I need to point out here that this concept doesn't just work for me (a soft touch for this sort of thing); it works spectacularly for my wife, who mostly regards my fondness for all things Trek with a raised eyebrow. Unlike the recent generations of Trek, where the method was to establish the new franchise with three seasons of creaky scripts and bad acting, Firefly begins with a bang, quite literally, and it never lets up. The central character appears to be fighting guerrilla warfare on behalf of some holy cause. Things go badly for his team, however, and he is forced to surrender. The story begins there, and picks up six years later when he's become an outlaw.

The show's intelligence (here's a good time to credit creator Joss Whedon) is in its leisurely unveiling of significant details. We know our hero is now apostate and grotesquely disillusioned, but only over the course of the season do we get any idea why that is or what's really taken place to get him there. He is, of course, struggling to figure out which values he still holds dear and which he can do without. Meanwhile, he is surrounded by a crew of strong characters, half of whom are strong women (no small appeal to viewers like my wife).

Firefly also doesn't skimp on humour, some of it of the shoot-and-throw-the-corpse-over-the-gunwales variety that you get in Spaghetti Westerns. And there a few winks thrown toward the concept's absurdities. But for all the fruitiness of the gig, it works excellently because the visual signifiers — six shooters, cowboy talk and character stock pulled straight from Gunsmoke — work as a shorthand that emotionally pulls the viewer in to the concept's trickier conceits: a slow and morally ambiguous struggle against an enormously corrupt corporation that values technology, material gain and corporate power, and doesn't hesitate to exploit the weaker members and discontents of its own society.

Despite the fact that Firefly in its entirety works better than all but a meagre handful of the (egad!) 726 episodes of Trek, it seems to have died quite typically from a spectacular case of network neglect. I should also say that my affair with Firefly started off on the wrong foot: a year ago I rented Serenity, the movie that followed hot on the heels of the series' cancellation. I couldn't finish it. It was like beginning a mystery with the last chapter. It's wrong, and it just doesn't work.

It also highlighted a peculiarity of sci-fi television — the fetish for perfectly coiffed hair. What is it about Space Opera (and as with everything else about the genre, Battlestar Galactica pretty much sets the standard in this department, too) that requires its heroes to look like they've just left the stylist's chair? Especially for a concept like Firefly, I'd think there might be some leeway in the hairstyle department. Make it more like Deadwood In Space, perhaps.

Anyhow, the hair is just one small nit to pick, and it's foolish of me to complain when the leads are all so easy on the eyes. Firefly is television at its best, and my wife and I are now among the slowly growing legion of fans who would dearly love to see its resurrection.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Q: When is a song more than just a song?

A: When the year is 1965 and the song is Bob Dylan's “Like A Rolling Stone.”

I have some thoughts of my own about the cultural significance of Bob Dylan and his songs, but first take a gander at this snippet of prose from Greil Marcus's Like A Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan At The Crossroads, and see if his voice doesn't remind you of someone else's:

And then the song took off, over mountains, through valleys, across rivers, across oceans, each line more expansive, more triumphant, heroic, and modest than the last, for the singers were claiming no more than what anyone else could take as a birthright. As the choir thundered again and again, with [the singer] oddly taking its place and the choir his ... you rose to the story as you listened, eager to join it, even if, then, if not before, you realized that the massed voice of the choir stood for all the voices of the dead, and [the singer] ... was the voice of an adventure that had come to an end before he was ready to take part. As you listen, you hear history tearing the song to pieces — but the song will not surrender its body. At five minutes it seems to go on forever, and you want it to. You can't play it once.

Alright, back to Bob. One of the bitter disappointments that comes with reading a singer's memoirs is the realization that this person isn't quite as clued in as you once assumed. Alice Cooper, for instance, has a facility for clever lyrics that work with the rock & roll template, and he still has terrific instincts for what thrills an arena-sized audience. He's obviously got a shrewd sense of the music biz. But beyond that, he's just a guy who golfs a lot, goes to church and pays a shrink to help him puzzle over why he wants a beer for breakfast.

There is a good reason why the majority of entertainer's memoirs deliver that come-down: it doesn't matter what sort of entertainer is under the microscope — actor, musician, bodybuilder, politician, preacher or stand-up comedian — they have to have the capacity to present a blank screen on which the audience can project their desires, fears and fondest hopes. The performer provides a few bold details (“Check this out: I'm freakishly huge!”) while the beholder fills in the blanks with personally revealing nuances (“He's big and NO-ONE CAN PUSH HIM AROUND!!”).

Some personalities have an easier time holding up this screen than others, and Dylan is a cat who has to work harder at it than, say, Alice Cooper does. Dylan's brain is on a constant low boil: he can't resist a beautiful woman, or just about any direct appeal to his religious sensibilities. And if his memoirs are any indication, the drugs he took in the 60s don't seem to have damaged his encyclopedic knowledge of traditional American music. He meditates on just about everything, but still refuses to be pinned down on any given issue. Frankly, the guy strikes me as being a bit crackers, but that's not an altogether bad thing. He is the Jokerman, and so shall he be to the end of his days, because anything more definitive than that is downright unattractive — to him, and to us.

I don't mind saying I'm a fan, but I still find it galling that this guy is THE cultural presence of the last 40 years when the vast majority of his songs could mean this, or they could mean that, or they could mean nothing at all. The effect of his best music is to suggest that he isn't just deeply inside a given cultural moment, but that his point of view actually transcends it as well. But does it really?

I was born the day Dylan laid out “Like A Rolling Stone” on the reel-to-reel. I own a worn-thin copy of Highway 61 Revisited, and I've got to say: “Like A Rolling Stone” just doesn't do much for me. It's always sounded to me like Dylan's being snarky to an ex who's fallen on hard times — a real class act, that's only marginally easier on the ears than “Positively 4th Street” and its grating Hammond Organ hook: “Dee-Doodely-Doot-Doot-Dooo.” Man, those two songs ... I'm begging here — no mas!

“Desolation Row,” on the other hand, knocks me on my ass every single time I hear it. The lyrics are typically dodgy, but they evoke for me my handful of years in Bohemia when everyone who walked into my studio apartment seemed a little dangerous, and a little sad. I figured I was living on Desolation Row; as far as I'm concerned it's still just a block or two away from where we live.

Unlike yours truly, Marcus Greil was a cogent-sounding young guy back when “Like A Rolling Stone” hit the airwaves. For him, the song's blank-slate quality invited the public to project their anger and anxieties over the struggle for racial equality, the Vietnam war, and all those debilitating assassinations that struck at the heart of the nation. The song stood up to all this and had the strength of architecture to carry it, too.

I wasn't there (not really), so I'm not entirely convinced. But I'm digging Marcus Greil and just about anything he says, and here's why: that quote I began with is his riff off the Pet Shop Boys' “Go West.” Again, I can't say that particular song inspires quite the same reverence in me. but I get a kick out of the way it inebriates Greil, 'cos it reminds me of this guy:

The tenorman's eyes were fixed straight on him; he had a madman who not only understood but cared and wanted to understand more and much more than there was, and they began duelling for this; everything came out of the horn, no more phrases, just cries, cries, “Baugh” and down to “Beep!” and up to “EEEEE!” and down to clinkers and over to sideways-echoing horn-sounds. He tried everything, up, down sideways, upside down, horizontal, thirty degrees ... finally the tenorman decided to blow his top and crouched down and held a note in high C for a long time as everybody else crashed along and the cries increased and I thought the cops would come swarming in from the nearest precinct.

That's Kerouac, of course. And Greil, God love 'im, is Kerouac's natural heir apparent — encyclopedic, unashamed to employ exaggeration, surprisingly unsodden, yet every bit as passionate and persuasive. In other words, an American Original, something I rather enjoy reading — on occasion.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Seven Unlikely But True Things About Me

In response to DarkoV (whose seven actually make for entertaining and enlightening reading):

(1) When I was an 11-year-old slingshot-totin' boy, I nailed a redwing blackbird in midflight.

Ten years later I repeated the stunt on a grouse (yum!), this time with a .22 rifle.

(3) My right (sighting) eye is near-sighted, my left (alignment) eye is far-sighted. In other words, these feats of marksmanship were the result of dumb luck — but you knew that already.

(4) I own a hunting bow.

(5) I haven't drilled so much as a paper target with it.

(6) Our countryside is lousy with deer.

(7) I've yet to taste a venison dish I could finish (if you think you have a winner recipe, go on and e-mail it to me). The only meat that tastes worse than deer is moose.

My tags: you (and I'm not naming names, because no-one bothered themselves the last time I did).

Friday, June 22, 2007

*Cough! Hack!! Wheeze!*

My blogging, which for the most part has been cheerful and (as DV puts it) “phlegm free” seems to have undergone a slight shift in tone recently. One could reasonably assume that after lying in bed for the better part of a month, I'd arise with the sun and sing cheerfully with the birds. Instead I slouch to my keyboard and expectorate.

Take the last post (please): do I really want to see some guy get handed his walking papers? Chances are the guy has a wife and kids. Chances are even better the next editor in chief isn't just going to scrap the fiction (Granger's biggest crime, so far as I'm concerned), but the journalism, too. Esquire vs. Stuff — you want it, you got it.

Maybe I'm just succumbing to a dangerous nostalgia. Guys my age tend to do that, particularly in Generation X. We were born nostalgic — and why not? The Flower Children may have been a filthy clueless bunch, but our contribution to the scene was Grunge: Punk, phase II. Filthier, with just a touch of me-first nihilism. Our gift to the world, and you're welcome.

Three weeks in bed tends to have a reverse-Van Winkle effect: the world hasn't changed in any discernible fashion. It's the same as it ever was, if by “same” we mean, “Steadily getting worse.” I wake up from three weeks' slumber, and what's the big news? There's a new phone!

People: we don't need another goddamn phone!! Forget the bees for a second — these things are killing us! First off, there are the traffic incidents — the faster, gentler way to go. Secondly, there's the technology itself. In order for you to talk to your spouse, that handy little device has to broadcast microwaves to the nearest cell-tower. If those microwaves have to go straight through your head, so be it. Just think about where you keep that phone while you're waiting for it to warble: if you're a guy it's probably on your belt, snug against your kidneys and prostate, and not too far from your balls; if you're a woman, it's in your purse, which you sling under your arm and cosy up to your ribcage. And I'm not even mentioning the landfill issues.

It'd be nice if Apple, or any other corporation, took these issues into consideration before they introduced a new doo-dad to the market. But the free-market assumption is the consumer has the knowledge and the will-power to make her own responsible decision. That's the generous take. Not-so-generous: if Steve Jobs thought he could make a buck selling you a bullet for your brain, he'd do it.

Three weeks in bed, so much of it sleeping, so little of it dreaming. My breath, my energy and my mojo are slowly returning; last night I finally had an honest-to-God dream. I should be happy, but the killer is I dreamed about buying CDs. All my sick-bed epiphanies — time is of the essence, love is the only engine of survival* and what does the Lord require of thee but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with thy God?* — all washed away by the glittering vision of a good ol' shopping spree. Eef — go ahead and count me among the chimps sprinting from the trees toward that flashy thing on the horizon.

Sigh. I'll be fine, I'll be fine. My pleasant disposition will return. I've just got to clear all this gunk from my lungs, my head, my soul....

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Angelina Jolie + Esquire Magazine = "Worst Celebrity Profile In The World, Ever"

Good grief. Someone tell me when David Granger finally gets shit-canned, 'cos that's the Esquire issue I want to buy.

Update: the culprit behind this puff-piece is Tom Junod, a writer who ought to know better. Indeed, he almost certainly does know better. One possible, albeit exceedingly generous, interpretation of what's just happened: Junod and Granger are deliberately driving a stake through the absent heart of the celebrity profile.

Or not. Look, I'm not the only guy who's noted that the last 30 years have not been kind to Esquire — or is it the other way around? If you want some evidence of just how abysmally far this "men's magazine" has fallen, go to your favourite on-line used book emporium and plonk down some change on Smiling Through The Apocalypse: Esquire's History Of The Sixties. Pick a random page from that collection, then read it and ask yourself, "When's the last time Esquire published anything nearly this good?"

Or just head for the cover archive and scroll through the 60s. Do you think there's any chance this men's magazine can ever re-grow a pair big enough to put on a cover like this one from 1966?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Great Canadian Superhero

"There is something about Canada that resists superheroes," says Jeet Heer (via ALD). I've got a few ideas what that "something" might be, but the largest, inescapable reason why our country hasn't produced a single superhero "fit to hold the cape of Superman or Batman" is: we don't have a New York City. Say what you will about superheroes being nationalist allegories (I won't argue), but if the United States didn't have New York City, they'd have never had superheroes, either.

I remember visiting Toronto when I was 16 and thinking, Spider-Man would have a territory of six city blocks to swing around in. After that he'd have to go on foot. You can't be "super" in a city like Toronto or Vancouver! And just try being super in Montreal or Halifax! People will see through that "super" disguise toot sweet, my friend: "'Super' is he? Ha! And him with the print of the pail still fresh on his arse!"

No, only in New York City does anyone get to be "super." 'Cos it's the world's first super city, doncha know.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

I was going to wait until I was in healthy, vigorous review mode before I passed judgment on Cormac McCarthy's most popular novel to date: The Road. Plenty of fine ink has already been spilled, puzzlin' over "what does it all mean?" If that's what you want, I refer you to Phil Christman, James Wood and Jennifer Egan. With me, you get the bedside book review.

I thought it was complete bollocks — the very first McCarthy novel to actually annoy me. After practicing with smaller skirmishes and more containable Hells, McCarthy rolls up his sleeves and finally presents two protagonists (a father & son) who have witnessed and survived The Actual Honest-To-God Apocalypse! For reasons unclear to me, McCarthy abandons his Antique Apocalypse writin' style in favour of an austere minimalism more in line with Hemingway. This has the unfortunate effect of putting McCarthy's forced plot contrivances into the sharpest relief. The father and son have "the fire" — an inner moral light — and absolutely none of the other survivors share it. Instead we get wandering hordes of zombie-like people whose greatest joy in life is roasting babies on a spit.

Some conceits are better than others, and this one is downright threadbare. McCarthy is better when everyone in his story is confused and cruel.

Seldom Disappointed: Memoirs by Tony Hillerman

I haven't read any of Hillerman's mysteries, yet here I am with a hardcover copy of his memoirs that I picked up in one of my California trips. It's a remainder, of course. Someone must have recommended them to me, so I spent the nickel, parked the book on my shelf and waited for an opportunity to read it.

Sick in bed is just that opportunity, and I'm damning the book with the faintest praise if I say this is the best condition in which to enjoy it, too. His copy editor clearly decided Hillerman's memoirs called for a lower standard than (I assume) his fiction — a much, much lower standard. As Hillerman recalls episodes in his childhood, his time as a WW2 grunt, reporter and academic, etc., he slips from past tense to present tense and back again — a tendency that quite properly gets beaten out of any kid who enrolls in Creative Writing 101. And there is no lack of incredible spelling errors (not typos, 'cos we see them again and again).

Nevertheless, Hillerman is a charming, self-effacing character with no lack of delightful stories in his quiver. He's the sort of person who enjoyed the Great Depression because he was a kid at the time, and everyone else in his farming community was in the same straits. His experience of the war was a terrible awakening, but when he got his million-dollar wound he determined to make the best possible use of the time given him. And so he has.

Seldom Disappointed is an easy, breezy read. When I'm up to it, I'll see if the local library doesn't have his mysteries in stock, and give one of those a try.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Good Life by Jay McInerney

Jay McInerney is one of those happily public figures whose smirking media presence continually raises the question: is it possible for a reader to separate the man from his work, and simply enjoy the work?

The answer: yes — we do it all the time. Moving on.

I ate up McInerney's Brightness Falls back in the day. I thought it was fabulously sentimental; as a reader I tucked into every juicy detail McInerney cared to throw my way. There are images I can summon with little provocation: the beached whales, the ever-present yellow tie, the literary assistant who is outraged that her boss just requested she remove that "Eat The Rich" pin.
In The Good Life McInerney takes this cast and introduces them to 9/11. As the dust from the towers settles over everything, an extra-marital affair begins. It's all tentative at first, but it blooms and becomes (as these things are prone to do) all-consuming. The lovers can't believe the insight they now have — common stuff they once took for granted is seen in a whole new light. A new future is planned, a better future, one they never have conceived had they not met. Even now, it seems too good to be true, too fantastic to be possible, but every potential roadblock they can think of is met and dealt with and simply melts out of existence. Can this go on?

McInerney is suggesting, I think, that the insights we were privy to when the towers fell were analogous to those that come with an extra-marital affair. I know I had my "a-ha" moment, following 9/11. There were any number that occurred, to any number of people. But as with the insights that come with an extra-marital affair, some are more helpful than others. And only a precious few will go the distance. Which ones?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Second Opinion

With chest x-ray: diffuse pneumonia. Just in time for swimming season, too.

Getting back to comfort viewing, here's Do The Right Thing, as performed by the Fisher Price Sesame Street crew (via boing boing -- language warning)

Thursday, June 14, 2007


Thanks all for your concern and well-wishes. In fact I saw a doctor on Tuesday, which was a foolish postponement on my part. This is my second day on antibiotics, and I've been reassured that all things fever-wise get taken care of in the first 72 hours.

So, until that blessed moment when the clouds finally clear from my brain (and lungs), I'll be reading lightweight stuff, or watching Star Trek. Kirk, Spock, McCoy ... could a fella ask for more cheerful company during his convalescence?

Which gets me thinking: what other stuff do people watch when they're sick in bed? What's the visual equivalent of chicken soup, or macaroni & cheese?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Upgrade ... er, "Update"

A fella can say some funny things when his fever runs up to 105. Beth is suggesting we podcast my monologues. Here's hoping my second day on antibiotics shakes off the fever.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Books From The Bottom Shelf

I'm no longer a buzzing mass of aching nerve-ends — now I'm a spasmodically-clenched body desperately trying to exhume its own lungs (while still buzzing). These are not the ideal conditions for a consideration of dystopia, Cormac McCarthy's or anyone else's. Instead, I've reached for the bottom shelf (closer to the bed) where the heavier material lies.

“Heavier” certainly describes The Making of Star Wars, by J.W. Rinzler. The book weighs, by Yahmdallah's account, a full six pounds, but I'm guessing his muscles might not have atrophied to the same point as mine. It is one monstrous sucker, eclipsing our family's former title holder of heaviest book in the house: a “Precious Moments Family Bible” given to us anonymously, so that we have no way of knowing if the gift was a tasteless joke or presented in all seriousness. It, too, sits on the bottom shelf.

Little to say about TMOSW, really, except that it's a miracle that movie ever made it to the screen. I suppose that's a truism that applies to any flick that aspires to a loftier aesthetic than Mother Jugs and Speed. I reached two conclusions at the end of the book: (1) Lucas was (and probably still is) a man of colossal will, who benefited terrifically from externally imposed story and dialogue tweaking; (2) if there's anything about this movie you think I need to know, go ahead and whisper it in my ear, 'cos I'm through reading about it.

Next there's Alice Cooper, Golf Monster, brought to us by Coop himself and the two guys responsible for the authorized life & times of Sonny Barger, Hell's Angel at large. Polished this one off in a day. At first the prose threw me, and I couldn't quite figure out why. Then I looked back on some other recent musical “memoirs” — Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney. These accounts all have a similar sense of pace and straightforward narrative, even the tone is similar: “It happened like this. Funny, eh? I still laugh when I think about it.” or: “He/she was exceptional — a real original — and we'll not see their like again.” Verbal exchanges have a rehearsed quality, as if they were prepped for a talk-show. Strange to say, even Dylan and McCartney can't quite escape this template. I guess when it comes to music, the beholder is able to invest a vast amount of subtlety and insinuation between the notes. Even an unabashed straight-shooter like McCartney suggests alternate worlds with his craft. But these musical artists don't (can't?) transfer those same suggestive skills to prose.

250 pages seems a bit much for the material we're given, but if you're confined to bed and genuinely curious about what makes a guy like Alice tick, the padding is no big deal. Celebrities walk through the pages providing anecdotes, most of which didn't stick to my ribs. Coop is frank about his status as born again Christian so he doesn't bother to dish out dirt, except to admit he was an indulgent heterosexual lad prior to meeting his wife Sheryl. The lack of squalor is fine with me: ledger sheets of rock & roll excess start out amusingly, but slip pretty quickly into depressing waters. He credits producer Bob Ezrin with coaching him into several varieties of “Alice” voice. It also looks like Ezrin sat him down and laid out the rock & roll template for him, thus delivering Alice from the experimental noise of his band's first album, Pretties For You.

He's also really, really frank about his struggles with alcohol. And that's about it. Oh, wait: there's golf. Lots and lots of golf, which I know little about and haven't any passion for.

Moving on, I picked up The Dark Side of the Moon: The Making of the Pink Floyd Masterpiece by John Harris. If you're looking at these titles and thinking, “Does this guy not have a TV?!” the answer is, yes I do, but I have never subscribed to cable, so no “Behind The Music” for me, boo hoo. This book was a cheap remainder and gave me some idea how Syd Barrett created a difficult legacy for the remaining band members to surmount. I've only heard a few Barrett tracks (on this compilation) and if there is any reason why someone stone cold sober would bother giving any of them a second spin, go on and explain it to me. To my ears this was a band that figured out what to do once he was finally removed from the picture.

The Dark Side of the Moon is the album in which the Barrett-less “Floyd” comes into its own, quite ironically by playing off his public notoriety as an acid casualty. If pressed, the surviving band members will say a word or two about his tragic loss. But it looks like that's the only way they'll say anything: if pressed.

Contributing musicians, vocalists and sound engineers all talk about what a solemn bunch of sods these guys were, and how they silently gave every struggling performer the impression they were failing miserably. Some of the band members are more genial than others, but there's no debating where Roger Waters stands in the likeability spectrum. Waters seems cut of that unique cloth of genius that knows precisely how to effortlessly piss off every single person within a thousand miles of him.

Again, lots of the written information will pass through my brain like so much mental Metamucil, and there's no good reason why it should stay. The stuff that registers, though, are exchanges between band members that, frankly, put them in league with Spinal Tap. See if you can't picture Nigel Tufnel relating this to the documentary camera:

“After (Smell The Glove), we had a bit of money and I bought a house in the country. I had two young children. (David St. Hubbins) sat down and said to me, 'I can't believe you've done this — you've sold out, I think it's disgusting.' Six months later, he went and bought a much bigger house in the country. I said, 'Remember what you said?' He said, 'Ah, yes — but that's because my wife wanted it, not me.' ... I found him rather hypocritical. That's what angered me about him.”

Go ahead and guess who's saying that about whom. After this anecdote, and several more like it, every single one of the band members (when pressed) refers to TDSOTM as the beginning of the end, even though it's the album that catapulted them into untold fame and fortune, and paved the way for a very lucrative series of records to follow.

And since I'm talking Pink Floyd, here's a Floyd-related memory...

Change the Soundtrack

In my second year as a University undergrad, I was informed of a classmate who'd just suffered some bi-polar woes. I took the bus to the hospital to see how he was doing, and to collect a library book he'd taken out on my card (he'd never have revealed his troubles if it hadn't been for that damn book). I asked the receptionist if she could direct me to the psychiatric ward, and she pointed to a doorway. “Just go to the end of the corridor,” she said.

The corridor was very long, all white (natch) and entirely without windows or doors. I was the only one in it, and I walked its length at a very brisk pace. When I finally reached the door, it dawned on me why the corridor was such a strange bit of business: the psych ward was actually a building separate from the rest of the hospital.

The place had blue carpet on the walls and was suffocatingly warm. An orderly directed me to my friend, and we chatted for a bit. “C'mon,” he said. “Lemme show you the lounge.”

“The lounge” was brightly lit and much cooler than the rest of the ward. There was a universal gym in one corner, a stationary bicycle and a bunch of couches lining the walls. A blonde kid, aged about 15 or 16, was sitting on one of the couches with an orderly. The kid had a boom box on his lap and he was playing Pink Floyd's The Final Cut.

My friend made the introductions. “That's ___,” he said. “He tried to commit suicide.”

I waved. “Hey.”

He nodded back, then turned up the stereo. “This is great music,” he said to the orderly. “I played it when I needed the strength to finally go ahead and kill myself.”

The orderly gave him a pleasant smile. “Is that right, eh?”

My friend and I left the room. “Man,” he said, “that kid is smart as a whip, got everything going for him. Makes you wonder what's the matter.”

We walked back down the long corridor to the hospital, and my friend took me up to the incubator room to look at the babies. They cheered him up and gave him hope, he said. I thought about the guy I'd just met, someone who'd once been a baby that brought smiles to the faces of the elderly and infirm. I was certainly in no position to say what was “the matter” — God knows something was. But I couldn't help wondering if a voluntary change in soundtrack mightn't have given him a different kind of strength, the kind to hold on for just a little longer.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

"I got the tuber-cu-lucas and the sinus flu"

Thanks to my non-hockey-fan readers for checking in with me, regardless of my seasonal obsession. You'll be happy to note it's all over: hockey season is finished, and since I'm not usually one to pay much atention to the game before play-offs begin, we've got nine months of hockey-free blogging to look forward to.

I have a few thoughts fizzing in my brain, waiting to escape and gas up the blog. I've been reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road, watching Children of Men, and musing about the overall shift in dystopia-think. I'll get to that in a day or two.

But first I've got to break out the ice-cubes of chicken stock and brew up some soup. Don't know why flu-season decided to strike at the beginning of June, but it did. If you want me, I'll be in bed. Bring a book you can read to me.

Gratuitous Hockey Post

Halfway through the first period as I was watching Ottawa struggling once again to figure out how to play this game with this team, I thought, "I wonder if the circumstances aren't just about right for another Steve Smith moment?" In a just world, this would never have happened to Chris Phillips, who was outplaying nearly everyone else on his team. But in a just world it would never have happened to Steve Smith, either.

I certainly enjoyed watching the Ducks play the last four games. They executed a forward rush that Ottawa never got a grip on (though there were signs in the first period last night that that had changed). The Stanley Cup is duly theirs, and I'm very happy for Randy Carlyle, Scott Niedermeyer, that Penner guy from the prairies ... even Chris Pronger!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Lou Reed Interviewed

Somewhere there's a vault filled with all the silent tape — audio, visual, scotch — courtesy of Lou Reed interviews that quickly went sour. If there's a celeb who gets surly and clams up faster than Reed does, I don't know who it is (Harrison Ford, maybe?). This Telegraph interview comes off sounding like a 50/50 proposition, which in Reed-stats is pretty fine indeed. H/t to Advanced Theory.

Gratuitous Hockey Post

I now believe Anaheim is the better team, and I'm wondering if Carlyle isn't the better coach. Of course, "the better team" is a combination of any number of unquantifiable elements. But when the Ducks took to the ice in the second period, they were playing a very different game than they were playing during the first period. I'm thinking that Murray, for whatever reason, can't make his intermissions "work," while Carlyle clearly can and does.