Thursday, December 24, 2015

Searching for Vintage Whisky?

2015 -- my eleventh year of blogging -- is nearly finished. I've had some requests (from family members, but still) to link to my "best posts." I'll give it a shot come January, but it could be tricky.

It's all a blur, for one thing.
I've no idea what makes for a satisfying post for readers -- if I were to let stats determine content, I'd devote the entire blog to crokinole. The posts that satisfy me the most are usually a little long for the current attention span. Brief is better -- I'm certainly on-board with that sentiment. But I also figure this is a platform that allows for rambling where others do not, so . . . I ramble.

These are my "read this/skip the rest" selections for this year, ordered by date posted:

  1. The Contagion Spreads: Afterlife With Archie -- here -- still the best comic book running, IMO.
  2. Harrison Ford Shines Light On Leonard Nimoy -- here. With the new Star Trek trailer out, I'm missing Nimoy more than ever.
  3. A Walk Among The Tombstones -- here. Liam Neeson action flicks vary in quality. I watched this again the other night, and remain impressed.
  4. From The Forest To The Sea: Emily Carr In British Columbia -- here.
  5. Joining The Frygian Evangelists -- here. Is Northrop Frye experiencing an academic resurgence? I certainly hope so.
  6. Sex, With E.L. Doctorow -- here. My insight into the late author and his work is debatable, but I'm justifiably proud of my alternate lyric to "If I Only Had A Brain."
  7. Two posts on my experience of university in the mid- to late-80s, dovetailing with some thoughts on what higher learning appears to have become -- here and here.
And finally, special mention for the series of posts I most enjoyed writing (drum-roll, please):

I Will Make You Reapers Of Men: Jacobean Slapstick in Helfer & Baker's The Shadow -- a three-parter that begins here.

Am I off-base with any of these? Is there subject matter you wish I'd take a stab at? Got something else on your mind? Wonder what I thought of Star Wars: The Force Awakens? (I enjoyed it well enough, but strongly recommend against sitting in the third row from the IMAX screen) Hit the "comments" button below, and let fly.

Thanks for reading -- and please have yourself a merry little Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Rock 'n' Roll Concerts = My Weepie

It says something about the age I've reached, and the age I'm in, that the rock 'n' roll concert experience as recorded on DVD has become an invitation to retrieve the hankie and clear the eyes.

"Limp Bizkit?"

Roger Waters, The Wall.

Let's get the caveats out of the way. Sure, it chafes to see -- right in the title, fer cryin' out loud -- one man claim sole ownership to a set of songs that was the product of a group. But the man did, in fact, supply the thematic impetus for those songs, and producer Bob Ezrin freely admits he made it his job to sell Waters' vision to the rest of the band and marshal the project in a direction that ultimately pleased Waters the most. And this film is, finally, a synthesis of Waters' various artistic expressions launched by the initial project.

Let the baby have his bottle, in other words, and you may find the experience deeply affecting.

I did, and do, although the "documentary" elements that intersperse the concert footage frequently grate. Waters isn't an easy guy to be around, no matter how he's framed. But as prickly and as full of himself as he is, Waters still manages his project invitationally, with surprising equanimity. The flash and bombast of Waters' rock show is among the most sensational I've seen. Furthermore, it is interspersed with and informed by portraits of people killed in war, sent in by surviving family members. Thus The Wall, which has existed through the decades as "classic rock's" preeminent solipsistic yawp, transforms into a global howl against the brute stupidity of wars launched by people of "abject" personality.

RUSH, R40 Live. It's a stretch to call this epic-length concert a "weepie" -- unless you're not a fan, and you've foolishly agreed to sit through all three hours of it with a loved one who is -- but bear with me. All these songs from all these albums, through all these years -- if you are a fan, even a middling one, this performance conveys the striking depth of generosity that went into their formation.

I mention the "middling" fan, because I think I qualify. I have a total of four CDs and nine more studio albums via digital means. The CDs get regular play throughout the year, and the other albums are usually pulled up at least once in a given tour around the sun. I have clear favourites, in other words -- Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures, plus one more.* Which distinguishes me as the least distinguished RUSH fan ever.

I do love their concert DVDs, however -- and this one in particular, for the way it highlights songs I give little-to-no airplay. By concert's end I was quite moved -- it's a joyous, celebratory affair.

Neal Peart: "How did I get myself into this?"
Devin Townsend Presents: Ziltoid, Live At The Royal Albert Hall. Another epic-length concert, the first third of which is the entirety of Townsend's demented space-opera, performed to spec with actual puppets.
It's a "Poozer," if you have to ask.
The final two-thirds is an all-request set, which he solicited via social media. To my surprise, not one of the songs sung has a spot in the "most played" column of my infernal device (though the performance of "Namaste" is sure to get there pretty quickly). The set-list swings from raucous to meditative and back again, until Townsend settles into "The Death of Music," a ten-plus-minute magnum opus he's brought to the mic for nearly 20 years of performing. It's a song that contains multitudes, and hearing it after everything that's preceded it brings into sharp focus the existential themes Townsend teases apart and knots up again through everything he does -- including, especially, the sophomoric puppet show: identity, longing, family, the ties that bind and check us from indulging our worst impulses.

He closes the night with his son's favourite song -- "Universal Flame" -- says "thanks" to mom and dad, who are in attendance, then puts down the guitar so he can give hugs to everyone who made the show possible, including his wife and kid, who were standing behind him and singing along.

Prog Metal as an act of familial gratitude? Count me in.

*Full disclosure: much as I enjoyed the R40 performance, I appreciated it most for sending me back to the Clockwork Angels concert -- the most beautiful of RUSH's stage performances, IMO.

Monday, December 14, 2015

While you were waiting for the new Star Wars movie to come out ...

...the trailer for the next Star Trek movie ("Beyond") was "leaked"/released. It looks like this:

Well. Somehow having 'Sabotage' become the de facto theme song for the Star Trek franchise seems . . . appropriate.

I'm disappointed, but hardly surprised. The previous movie lurched away from the patiently cultivated bonhomie in the first, in favour of inflating all the weaknesses and absurdities -- more running! more hanging from cliffs! etc -- so why should this outing veer off-course?

Other Trek fans are somewhat more perturbed. To wit: "The new Star Trek trailer is worse than Hitler" says Steven Lloyd Wilson.

"No! It's worse than ... Kodos, the ... Executioner!!"
All links via Scott Dagostino (live long and prosper, dude).

Friday, December 11, 2015

"What, exactly, did you sign up for, professor?"

"I wasn’t angry — not at all. Nor did I think it was their fault. Someone did this to them. And at bottom they were smarter than me about it because it was their world we were talking about and they knew its rules far better than I did. It was a complex moment in which I was trying to catch up with them, but also trying to persuade them to slow down and consider other possibilities. In other words, even then I was trying to teach them!"

That's Ron Srigley, describing his initial response to an epiphany he recently experienced regarding his university students. The whole thing Dear Parents: Everything You Need To Know About Your Son And Daughter's University, But Don't is here, and I highly recommend it as your weekend long-read.

I have a somewhat scattered reaction to it all.

It of course brought me back to my own university days, and one episode in particular. During the height of my interior drama I sat down to an early-term exam, and realized, as I wrestled with one question after the next, that I was bombing. In the space at the end of the exam I wrote a brief blurt to the effect that I found the professorially-imposed constraints of contemporary academia to be subjective and artificial and really, really frustrating, dammit. I can't recall whether I had any second thoughts as I handed it in. No matter -- there'd be plenty of time for those later.

The next week the professor handed back the exams. And, yes, I had indeed flunked it. Also, my professor wrote her own response to my rough rant -- to wit: these professorially-imposed constraints I railed against were something I'd agreed to work within when I applied as a student. Those constraints weren't going to change just because I didn't like them. If I had expectations that weren't being met, I'd have to pursue them elsewhere.

She added, "Book an appointment with me."

As loath as I was to face and possibly compound my embarrassment, I went ahead and booked that appointment. Then we met. She noted the lousy mark, and the blurt, and asked what happened. I acknowledged the bottom line -- I hadn't prepared. She pressed further and inquired about my emotional condition -- frankly, and in terms that didn't indulge it. I returned her candor. We discussed the syllabus, the timeline, and variations on the subject matter which I might potentially find the most engaging. She asked if I was up for it; I said I believed I was. She said I could book another appointment if that proved not to be the case. Otherwise, she and I were going to proceed as agreed-upon -- one assignment at a time.

I calmed down, I sat down, I did the work.

I am, of course, very grateful for this episode, and the adult charity I received as a foundering kid -- a profoundly formative experience, in fact.* But I disclose the episode for another reason.

First of all, reading Srigley has me wondering if the tables haven't turned so far that present-day impetuous-types like my younger self would be denied a similar chance to grow.

Secondly, my professor's initial response -- This is what you signed up for -- was absolutely right. And as weird and as awful as it sounds (to my ears, at any rate), I wonder if it isn't the most truthful response to Prof. Srigley as well. Coddling young "customers" who've enrolled in the Humanities -- maybe that's not what you signed up for in (I'm guessing) the early-80s. But that's where it's at now. If you have something you'd rather offer -- well, perhaps you'll need to pursue that elsewhere.

Only, where?
Someplace where students never leave their beds would be optimal.

*An act of mercy I've tried to reciprocate wherever possible -- Je vous adresse mes plus vifs remerciements, Linda Hutcheon.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Christmas Soundtrack 2015 -- Early Entrants

I've generally been in the habit of promoting new additions to our family's "Holiday Soundtrack" playlist. Last year seems to have been the exception -- sheer neglect on my part. I aim to rectify that oversight, so don your headphones, open a new tab to your streamer of choice, and let's get going.

The kids picked up on Pentatonix' That's Christmas To Me. It remains a favourite with the girls, while I'm a little lukewarm on the project. After all these years of driving from one family destination to another while listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber, High School Musical, then Glee soundtracks, anything that smacks of "It's a SHOW!" is a particularly hard sell for yours truly. But there's no denying this is an outfit with chops, energy and personality, and I do not begrudge the airtime they get in this house.

The stand-out addition to last year's playlist came via DarkoV -- Butch Thompson's Yulestride. Thompson infuses a sly New Orleans sensibility to seasonal standards, injecting pep and good humour without tipping the balance toward irreverence. I see he's got another seasonal CD, with Laura Sewell. I shall definitely take a closer look.

Standouts this year include Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings' It's A Holiday Soul Party. After all these years of artists bringing their own sleepy interpretations to the hipster playlist, it's a joy to hear Ms. Jones and the Kings blasting the cobwebs off the seasonal pantheon. Man, somebody needed to provide material for that hour in the Christmas party when the conversation and laughter reach peak decibels -- and this is definitely that material. I spoke earlier about "irreverence" -- not at all a negative, I should hasten to add. If you need persuading on that matter, go on and give "Big Bulbs" a spin.*

Charlie Hunter & Bobby Previte's We Two Kings took a second spin to work its magic. Initially the Dick Dale approach left me a touch cool -- it'd been done (by the Dutch!). But these two cats have a great deal more going on than surfer-variations. Stand-out tracks include "Deck The Halls" and "The First Noel." It's sassy stuff that plays well paired up with Bela Fleck's Jingle All The Way.

And finally, I was a big fan of Nick Lowe's Quality Street. If you weren't, the live performance of that album (The Quality Holiday Revue), accompanied by Los Straitjackets isn't going to change your mind. But do give "Linus & Lucy" a spin -- you may well want to throw that into your playlist punchbowl.

And by all means -- introduce me to some swell new stuff in the comments below, woncha please?

Misheard Lyric Of The Year: my elder daughter asks, while "Big Bulbs" plays, "Is she really singing, 'Flashing innuendo tonight'?" Ha ha -- no, honey. But she may as well be (it's "flashing in your window" fwiw).