Saturday, December 31, 2016

Exit Music, 2016

Because what else were you going to do tonight?
 Some videos from albums/concerts that moved me this year, beginning with . . .

The Rolling Stones: Some advice? Don't watch any of the videos from the new album. This one especially manages to break all the good faith that was established in the studio. I couldn't make it past the first 60 seconds. Old men with way too much money tend to spend it in the most predictable way, don't they? The following video isn't too bad, but I still encourage streaming the album above watching some desperate attempt to re-animate the glory of 80s MTV:

The Devil Makes Three: Now this is a video that kicks ass! Made for a pittance, naturally. From the woefully unsung Redemption & Ruin, one of my favourite albums of '16.

Meshuggah: still giving me the shivers.

Devin Townsend Project: somehow coming up with the attendant yang to Meshuggah's yin. Not my favourite track from the new album (I'm partial to this one) but still very good.

Clutch: received the most play on my infernal device this year, due in no small part to their most recent album already being a year old -- but also because their comic book concerns and garage band racket hits the sweet spot buried in my id. Psychic warfare is real -- you better believe it, brother.

Happy 2017, dear reader.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Dear Pen-Pal...

When I was a kid I envied Charlie Brown. He had a pen-pal he wrote to, and I assumed (probably incorrectly) that this pen-pal of his wrote back.
I wrote letters as well, hoping to establish that pen-pal bond. Cousins in Germany, second-cousins-once-removed in Saskatchewan, cabin mates from summer camp, etc. There was a kid in British Columbia, the son of my mother's college room-mate, who came back with some considered epistles, but otherwise the pattern was established early and it never altered. I wrote once, twice -- three times, if desperate enough -- and eventually settled for the fact that my words had disappeared into a vacuum of utter silence.

The pattern continued when I forayed into the field of "Pro Writer" in the Self-Addressed-Stamped-Envelope era of "submission." Rejection slips were fine, the ones with encouraging comments added were appreciated if not cherished. But I'd say upwards of 65% of what I sent out just disappeared.

So when blogging became a thing, and I received my first comment from someone I didn't know, my response was quite naturally one of fear. They seemed engaged, even appreciative, but . . . I didn't KNOW them! When was the other shoe going to drop?

I got over it, needless to say. Then came the stretch during peak blogging when the comments thread was more fun than the post that generated it.

Finally, Pen-Pals!!

Then Zuckerberg's Beast slouched in, along with a few other also-rans, and blogging became . . . Not a ghost town, exactly, but something akin to rural villages tenaciously committed to a particular, but changing, model of community.

That's all fine. I established the habit of throwing out words, and so it shall be until for one reason or another I can no longer do it.

But I was struck, recently, by how fond I have grown of people I've never met except through this thing-we-call-blog. No need to name names -- if you've ever left a comment, you've added joy to my life. Now most of us are slumming with each other behind the blue-and-white velvet rope. Is it too much to say I love you? I don't see why it should be.

I care, dammit. I care that you're happy. "Happy" comes and goes, of course -- there are times nobody in their right mind should be happy, and brother, does this ever strike me as just such a time. But I care that you are engaged, that you love and are loved, that there is some measure of joy imparted to you through what you do and who you, in turn, care for. You cared enough to engage with me and these various outpourings of varying quality -- and for that you get, in return, a reciprocal degree of care that's just this side of creepy.

Happy New Year, in other words. Merry Christmas, if you can dig it. Live long and prosper -- that those you encounter may also.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Somewhere there is a coherent version of this particular story, and I suspect it's on the cutting-room floor.
"I'm pretty sure I saw my character go this way..."
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story isn't a mess, exactly -- the plot moves from a to b to c in a fashion anyone can follow. But the central characters, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), don't appear to be motivated by anything fiercer than a plodding sense of moral confusion brought on by a case of post-traumatic Star-Wars-disorder.

Lucas is said to have given the film a qualified thumbs-up, and the flick does indeed contain elements that hearken directly to the sort of thing the Old Man joneses over. Roshomon, The Guns of Navarone, The Dirty Dozen and other flashes of cinema's now-distant past are pulled out of the cannister and given a digital gloss (along with two characters -- Tarkin and Young Leia -- vanished to the sands of time (attempting an actual resurrection would have been the less jarring option)).

And more often than not, what works best in the movie are those easily identifiable influences. The two most compelling characters are a blind Jedi priest and his burly, skeptical sidekick.
"I'm envisioning ... a bottle episode!"
Which brings us back to the half-baked Erso and Andor. The script occasionally hints that they've both got a more storied past than their current iterations would suggest, which leads me to suspect Disney's re-shoot orders were focused almost exclusively on Jones' and Luna's characters and interaction.

It's possible the original Erso and Andor were a staggeringly unsympathetic hash -- a vengeance-obsessed harridan paired with a cold-blooded guerrilla terrorist, perhaps. I doubt we'll ever know, since The Rodent's NDAs are the tightest and most punitive on this side of the planet. But it makes for enjoyable speculation in those stretches where the emotional content is entirely MIA.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


I haven't seen this yet -- it could be absolute rubbish. But it's generating some interesting conversations in the usual digital backwaters, so I am bookmarking it here. At some point when I have two hours for the task I'll give it a closer look. I might even comment.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Surprises in Music: 2017 Edition

(In Charlie Brown Teacher Voice):

Blah blah blah . . . Devin Townsend . . . new album, concert . . . blah blah . . . Clutch . . . blah . . . Meshuggah . . .

The surprises this year were . . . subtle.

After my last Devin Townsend encounter I considered retiring altogether from concert going, for at least those involving mosh pits. And yet summer rolled around, and there I stood, ears buffered with sound filters while the rest of my aging bod endured the usual tribal abuse. When the ticket vendor bots notified me of Dev's forthcoming show, I was prepared to steer clear as originally planned. Instead I consulted the seating arrangement to see if, indeed, there was any seating to be had at the venue. In fact a solo seat at the balcony rail beckoned. I clicked "buy tickets" and off I went.
Selfie of DTP drummer Ryan van Poederooyen and Yours Truly.
I wound up having fun, in no small part because I was seated at comfortable remove from the frothing mob. Devin and the lads seemed to be enjoying themselves as well, a highly contagious condition. I thought I could see how this might become a habit for guys my age. I could also see how it might not, given the long-haired older fellow beside me who was prone to taking shallow naps against my shoulder when he wasn't hiccuping Purple Kush.

Yes, it was fun, but I could say goodbye. This was it.

Then the bots emailed with news of Meshuggah's forthcoming concert.

For the last eight or so years I've learned to expect their name to come up in interviews with performers from strikingly different backgrounds: classical, jazz, ballet, Gregorian Chant -- when asked who they enjoy listening to during off-hours, if the interviewee begins with, "Actually, my tastes are a bit of a dog's breakfast . . . " you know it will be followed up with ". . . along with [Respected Elder Statesman In The Field] I also like Meshuggah."

Meshuggah has pride of place in my Wall of Plastic, but I'd never been to a show. Was it worth the hassle? I drove downtown to consult the friend who introduced me to them. "I've got your back, man," he said. "He have to go."

What that band does on plastic should not be possible live on stage. And yet, here was the proof.

Exits to the right and left of scary heads
It was, of course, a punishing affair. One reveller was pulled unconscious from the pit. Another staggered out to shoehorn himself beside me against the wall near the exit. He spent 15 minutes struggling to get his shit together before finally conceding defeat and sprinting for the door.

When the amps were silenced and the house lights back on, I was surprised by how overwhelmingly happy -- even joyous -- the vibe was. The mob shuffled past the stage en route to the exit, and drummer Tomas Haake strode to the edge to hand out the setlist and toss a few drumsticks to passersby. I was within a few feet of the man. I thought if everyone had been behaving the way they were five minutes ago, a massive brawl would break out over possession of those pieces of wood. But no. It was catch as catch can, and people were content.

As was I. I gave my friend a big hug, and then we shook hands and announced our mutual retirement from the concert scene.

Until next time.

Musical Endnote:

I just bought my very first Rolling Stones album.

In high school, when asked the Beatles/Stones question I reluctantly sided with the Stones. Their catalogue had more outright rock songs than the Beatles, and was still expanding. In 1991 I bought this box set of singles from their London years. I put what I wanted on a 90 minute tape, then took the set with me on my next visit to the used CD shop. I've still got that tape. It's probably playable, too, given how rarely I listened to it. Between radio and commercials and lulls between hockey periods my ears have been dully over-saturated with Stones' licks.

But this new album's alright -- in fact, it's a gas! No, seriously. It's just these old-timers setting themselves to doing what they did as kids, and applying all the tricks they've learned in the past 50-plus years. It's a happy racket, filled with surprises. Including, of all people, Charlie Watts. I've generally considered him little more than a nattily-dressed metronome for the band, but now I'm using words like "texture" and "character" to describe what he does with these guys on this album. There isn't a single song I'd turf from the list, either -- another first in my experience of the Stones.

Mick and Keef haven't cause to be the least bit concerned with my absence from their stadium shows. And for my part, witnessing their jittery Bear Band Jamboree has absolutely no appeal. But if these guys were to tour doing strictly this shtick?

I could envision coming out of retirement.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Oliver Jones

Montreal's Oliver Jones recently announced, not a "retirement," but a slow-down.

I heard this bit on CBC's Q, and wondered, "Does the man have a Christmas album by any chance?" Yes, indeed he does. I love it -- maybe you will also. Seek it out in the usual places, or go directly to the artist's site.

Friday, December 09, 2016

The Year In YouTube

Although I still regard the internet as chiefly yet another reading resource, this year I clocked in record amounts of time on YouTube. I wasn't on the prowl for anything particularly colourful or edgy -- mostly I was hoping to pick up a few skills I'm sadly lacking in, especially with regards to guitar. Consequently I've spent the equivalent of days (and counting) watching these two chuckleheads:

Korg's Miku pedal was not a piece of tech I splurged on, I hasten to add. But for viewers who couldn't be arsed about electric guitars, amps and related ephemera, this probably rates as the most entertaining (and brief) video in Anderton's expanding catalogue.

It's tempting to link to a bunch of videos that helped me assemble gear and improve technique, but the exploration of any given passion is a bottomless rabbit-hole best reserved for people of like minds -- and I do not want to presume. (OK, just one -- here's an amp I bought, thanks to this guy's straight-forward demonstration of its strengths and qualities).

While I'm at it, though, thanks to YouTube and Joel's generous heads-up I tucked into this lecture about the Münster Rebellion (it's three hours long, so you might want to bookmark it).

Mm -- "lecture" is a little dry, actually. Dan Carlin is apparently a radio personality who has transitioned into an entertaining history buff. His delivery aims to "engage," and alas for me I find it has quite the opposite effect. I say "alas" because it is evident that Carlin and his researchers go to great lengths to assemble and synthesize some very complicated episodes from our distant past -- and the corporate misbehaviour of Jan van Leiden and his hapless followers is nothing if not complicated.

Complicated, if familiar. If you're a Mennonite you doubtless know about the Münster Rebellion -- two weeks were devoted to its study in my high school. It is largely considered the genesis of the Mennonites, because our namesake lost a brother in the mêlée, and consequently hammered out the pacifist doctrine that his beleaguered flock have (with occasional exceptions) adhered to for the last 500 years.

Two weeks of study -- seems a reasonable precaution for a roomful of kids not far removed from the ages and passions of this particular rebellion. I wouldn't mind if this became a familiar chapter in everyone's common history, so Dan Carlin gets another link from me. Take and read -- or listen, as the case may be.

"Dirk, hold up! The gaol has wifi!"

Friday, December 02, 2016

Does Everything Have To Be So Darn Complicated?

Some links that have me cogitating, this week.

First, the meat and potatoes -- or fleisch un leedschocke, to resort to tribal vernacular . . .

Sunday dinner will be served at 2:30, three hours after the praedjer's final "amen!"

. . . my former neighbor Miriam Toews has a piece in Granta in which she meditates on violence and other abominable secrets that permeate our humble Kleine. My view towards Miriam's writing tends to be rather jaundiced -- she often reads like she's got scores to settle, and she's packin' heat! -- but I think this piece is quite good. She gives elegant expression to her sense of mission as well as her perceived place in the pantheon of Canucklehead Mennonite Literati -- Rudy Wiebe lit the torch, basically, and she's running with it (along with all the rest of 'em, who aren't making the pages of Granta).

Other Matters:

Peak TV: "Westworld" cannot outsmart the internet! Westworld is one of a handful of new shows that sound terrifically promising, but I've held off watching so much as a single episode. The reason: why should I commit myself to an unspecified number of hours of television, only to court the very real possibility of Walking Dead-levels of viewer disappointment? Nope, Battlestar Galactica cured me of such folly. Now I wait for a series to conclude, either by design or by cancellation, before I watch so much as a single minute.

Exception: The Americans -- and only because they promise to wrap it up in Season 5.

No wait, there are other exceptions. I borrowed from the library the first season of Agents of SHIELD. The family watched three or four episodes and decided we didn't need to be underwhelmed any further. Which got me wondering: what happened to Joss Whedon? Firefly was insanely punchy -- every episode a tutorial in lean, mean story-telling. When did he become so reliant on the long, gassy story-arc?

Doubts niggled, so I queued up Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It only took the first two episodes of season 1 to realize the long, gassy story-arc is Whedon's preferred canvass -- even ardent fans recommend newcomers skip straight to season 3. Would a project like Buffy stand a chance in today's TV market?

Peak TV Satire: "In reality, our prolonged love affair with cracking wise wasn’t a tonic that shook people out of their apathy — it was a symptom of it."

So what does Canucklehead Poindexter Charles Taylor make of it all?

Related: God, I miss Richard Rorty.

Let's bring it back to the Mennonites (cos that's what this is all about): the same day I read Miriam's essay, I heard this radio doc ("Exiled in Canada: a sex offender finds refuge with Mennonites" -- hey, look at you, CBC!) whilst running errands. As I mulled over this particular story, I thought of Miriam's magnum opus, A Complicated Kindness, and wondered, "What acts of kindness are uncomplicated?" Not many. "Greater love hath no man," and all that -- possibly the most complicated act of kindness to go on sacred record, triggering some powerfully complicated chapters in history (including). If it's a lack of complication you're after, it's best to stick to the baser emotions in the palette of human experience: fear, anger, a sense of grievance. The rest of us in search of the fabled third way are fated to parse through manifold complications -- until our final trip to church, toes-up.