Saturday, April 27, 2019

What does it take for me to finish a Big Studio/Big Money/Big Platform video game?

In the nine years since I was given my first PlayStation I've purchased roughly two-dozen big studio games. Of those, my rate of completion is (shamefully?) low. Near as I can tell, I've made it to the end of 12 of these narratives — averaging one-and-a-quarter games a year.

Here's the list of games completed, divided into two categories — see if you can spot what makes the second category unique from the first.

Category 2:

  • FallOuts 3, New Vegas, 4
  • Oblivion, Skyrim

I will throw in one more title I am on-track to completing in the next month or so: Horizon Zero Dawn, which, although it is not a Bethesda Studios property, almost has the criterion necessary to make it to the second list. Stay tuned...
"You hear that? He's going to finish!"

“I'm not just getting older — I am getting OLD” (a continuing series)

I may have said this here before (too lazy to check, sorry) but my very first “I'm not just getting older — I am getting OLD” moment was when I realized, in my late-20s, that most of the hockey players in the NHL playoffs were younger than I.

Prior to that, and even into my early 30s, I could perform a variety of mental gymnastics to persuade myself I was kinda-sorta in these dudes' athletic league. I mean, sure, they could take the puck and skate circles around me. But I took a decent stab at taking care of myself, was religious about the gym routine, etc. I wasn't that far removed from their esteemed company, surely. Now, what happened to the beer in this bottle?

I have traveled quite the psychic distance from those years of giddy self-deception. The latest such realization to hit me was actually expressed by another guitar-playing friend in his mid-50s. “I can either practice/play the guitar — or I can work out. I don't have it in me to do both.”

Yep. If I work out then try to play guitar — forget it. And sure, I can play then work out — playing isn't that physically demanding. But the recovery period required from such a day is longer than the usual 24 hours — more like 36-to-48. During those two days, if I'm not stretching and sticking to lighter activities (walking) instead of picking up the guitar, I am actively inviting injury that will keep me from playing and working out.

So working out is a thing of the past, basically. I walk or ride bike, and attend to custodial matters at home and at church. And I play guitar — because I want to engage in something I love. And I love playing more than I do working out.
Not sure I'll ever catch up with Bob Wood, though -- even if I get another 30 years.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Eschewing the hook/getting hooked

It seems my musical heroes are in the mood to throw caution to the wind.

Times — and intellectual content delivery systems — being what they are, I suppose it is only natural for an artist to shrug and think, “I'm done listening to producers and A&R guys — I'm going to do exactly what I want to do. Maybe it'll catch fire, maybe not. What have I possibly got to lose?”

In the case of T Bone Burnett and Devin Townsend — artists who occupy nearly opposing poles on the musical spectrum — my ears find the sonic results just a little off-putting.

Both artists are prone to their own peculiar reveries, of course. But Townsend has such a keen ear for the hook — it's what drew me to him in the first place. And while Burnett typically vortexes his song structures in elliptical orbits around the hook, he eventually acknowledges its fundamental gravity and succumbs — his albums usually have a couple of numbers a person can dance to, if so inclined.

Townsend's Empath and Burnett's The Invisible Light: Acoustic Space are 100% free-range, hook-free, impossible-to-dance-to albums — that's just an observation, not a criticism. Well . . . maybe it's a little bit critical. Hey, this is unquestionably a shadowy, liminal epoch we're enduring — structures we've depended on for centuries are literally aflame. Is it finally time to let go of The Hook and see what remains to buoy our sound-thirsty souls?

I love these guys — they will get my money no matter what they do. And I will devote further attention to these albums I've paid them for. But I kinda hope the next thing they cook up will have a hook or two to help keep me afloat.


I get a little self-conscious when I visit our local library. After exchanging friendly greetings with the librarian I head straight for the comic book section.

Reading comic books at my age is hardly something to be self-conscious about. But this is, increasingly, the only section of the library I bother with anymore. The fact of the matter is my house is packed with far too many languishing book-books, that I can no longer justify the weightier distraction that library books once offered.

Anyway, I select some of the more current omnibuses and slouch back to the librarian, figuring she can think what she likes of my ur-literary disposition.

“Ooo — Star Wars! Have you read Doctor Aphra?”
Resemblance to Tank Girl intentional, I assume.
This woman deserves a raise.

Marvel Comics has, in general, done exemplary work with the Star Wars Universe (SWU). Under their management Darth Vader is once again a viscerally unnerving figure, and the rest of Lucas's Cliff's Notes archetypes prove to have intriguing back-stories.

As for Doctor Aphra, she is everything Alan Scherstuhl says she is, and more. Aphra is “chaotic neutral” to use D&D parlance. But the longer she utilizes her chaotic energy to get her out of the messes it creates for her, the greater the toll it takes on her emotions — she becomes increasingly less neutral, in other words. If you think this amounts to a Jedi win, you're in for a surprise.
Speaking of Jedis, there are other rewarding elements to the Aphra storyline, including Jedi cults ascribing to a Lovecraftian grasp of the Cosmos — an unexpected development which, the longer I think on it, makes imminent sense.

But enough — you'll want to check it out for yourself, I am sure.


Getting back to hook-free music — it is Easter, and I will be clearing some aural space for Bill Evans' meditative piano stylings. Evans was HUGELY adverse to the hook. It would also have galled him terribly to learn that people put his music in the background, the better to enjoy family chatter around the seasonal rack of lamb. So it goes. Hey, if you dig Evans (doesn't everybody?) you'll definitely dig Broken Time by Steve Silberman, his meditation on Evans and “Nardis,” the Miles Davis-penned koan that Evans returned to throughout his life.

Today's noise is tomorrow's hootenannyto quote my favourite punk band. Wishing all my beloved artists every possible success — and everyone else a blessed Passover, a happy Easter, and a restful weekend.

Friday, April 12, 2019

While over in my tiny corner of the Panopticon...

Three years ago, I wrote a book about how the universal communications platform that blossomed in balmy Silicon Valley was breaking up into a state-dominated “splinternet”. That process is now advancing to the point where a blandly supervised cyberspace is the norm. Call it winternet.
Scott Malcomson, Winternet Is Coming

Julian Assange is now, officially, behind bars.
At least somebody approves.
Other people can assess whether this is a “good” or “bad” development. I was struck by how this happened pretty much one month after Scott Malcomson published “Winternet Is Coming” — his post-it note to 2016's The Splinternet. You don't have to read his short book to catch what he's saying today, but do give it a look. Also, his Twitter-feed is one of the few I find consistently compelling, thanks to his singular focus.

The Internet may have its origins in America. But that is not its future, nor even its present.


Yesterday I was at an outlet of Canada's last remaining bricks-and-mortar music chain. I keep handy a list of releases I think they might stock, figuring I'll go ahead and give them first dibs at procuring my bucks.

Donna Grantis' new CD, for starters — Toronto talent, played with Prince. Yes? No? 
Uh, no
'kay, how about last year's critical fave by Charles Lloyd and Lucinda Williams
Oof — moving on to metal: new CD by The Mute Gods
No listing, I'm afraid. 
Alright. Well, I see you've got the last three Periphery albums — has the new one been released yet? 
Do you know the title? 
Yes — Hail Stan
Sorry — 'Stan'?? 
Mm, no listing for that one either. Sir.

Although mightily discouraged I was not without hope. I meandered over to the back corner where the “Jazz” and “Blues” shelves are and began thumbing through discs. NOT a large segment in the store, needless to say, but a browser can expect to be surprised — whoever stocks this niche has to be, by nature, eclectic.

Huzzah — success!
I found these in the “Various Artists” category, crammed next to Confessin' The Blues, a double-disc release of 42 original blues recordings “curated” by The Rolling Stones.
Confessin' caught flak for being too Predictable-White-Boomer-Boring and too sexist. Imagine: The Rolling Stones — sexist!

I schputt (hey, thanks New Yorker!) but the criticisms are not without merit. While I appreciated some of what Colin Larkin had to say about the artists on parade in Confessin's liner notes, much of what was on offer was already familiar. And the prestige format with which the collection was presented had the ironic effect of adding an unwelcome fustiness to the entire project.
"Ladies & Gentlemen, esteemed colleagues, I present to you: The Blues."
I've no idea the skin tone to the curators of UK's Koko-Mojo Records, but these CDs — generously priced and larded with tracks — are decidedly all-inclusive and NOT boring. Also, the Koko Mojo hepcats rebuff any urge whatsoever toward CBC/NPR-splainin', opting instead for flash packaging with photos that add volumes more to the listening experience than any Michael Enright verbiage could ever hope to.
"Surely you jest, sirrah!"
These are the most dollar-fetching CDs to hit the racks since the Ultra-Lounge collection, and I will be hastening back to Sunlight for the others at my earliest convenience.
Ain't that a kick in the head?

Is the new Hellboy movie a dud?

Full disclosure — I wasn't especially taken with del Toro's movies. They distinguished themselves in a playing field overrun with MCU product, but only just. I thought Ron Perlman was finally the stand-out talent — a dude who brought the humanity to a cartoon demon trying to do right by his new adoptive family. The movies were helped by Perlman being a mensch in real life as well.

But when the younger and I left Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, we really truly hoped the world was finally prepared to accept just how an animated superhero movie could be leagues more rewarding than the “acted in real-life” lot we've come to expect. Could you imagine a Mike Mignola movie given the Spider-Verse treatment? Here's hoping.


As ever, thank you for dragging algorithmic attention to my tiny corner of the Panopticon. Your eyeballs, virtual eyeballs — I appreciates 'em all. God bless!

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

...any club that will have me....

I am not the only Mennonite in this village — I just carry on as if it were so.
"Would you clowns quit following me? It's embarrassing!"
The village was established by Scottish settlers. The current population is a touch more varied than it was back in the day, but not that much more. Anyway, there are at least four other Mennonites in residence who have been here longer than I — and I've been here 20 years (i.e, I'm the “newcomer”).

Two I've not yet met, including a businessman from my old hometown. The other belongs to a Mennonite name I see every time I activate the Wifi on my cell-phone.

Then there's a woman from the Mennonite enclave west of Toronto (Kitchener-Waterloo). She married a French fellow and they moved here shortly before we did. Two of their kids shared classes with ours, so we have interacted often and quite pleasantly through the years.

The other Menno I've met is a few years older, retired. He and his Catholic wife live just outside of town. I've only ever met him while riding bicycle — I, ill-advisedly lycra-clad and hunkering over my mid-life investment, pedaling furiously; he approaching serenely from the other direction, perched on a sensible upright bike and exerting no more energy than is required to stay vertical. We exchange greetings and continue on our disparate trajectories.

I gather he attends Mass. The kids are grown and gone, but were raised Catholic. He and the wife continue. He is a participant — sings in the choir, reads scripture — but not a communicant. Thus far he has eschewed conversion.

I could almost envision following suit.

Perhaps it strains the argument, but I believe his modus is already my own — committed participation, drawing short of conversion.

My wife and I attend and contribute to the life of the local United Church — a congregation that has welcomed us and whom we love — but we are not members. We are permitted to take communion, though. If we brought our cats to church, I imagine they would be too.

The United Church of Canada fancies itself the most protestant of Protestant denominations. They've broken ground in all the expected religious-identity frontiers — women's ordination, gay marriage and the subsequent adoption of LGBTQ shibboleths, etc. Currently the UCC is (somehow) boycotting Israel and Big Oil. Oh, and there's also this matter of an atheist minister who gets to keep her post. Needless to say if the cause is capital-P Progressive odds are the UCC is fer it.

I won't get into theology — a field I regard with distrust if not distaste, unless I'm the one espousing it. I suppose I could cherry-pick which denominational policies I wholeheartedly endorse and which I regard with, at the very least, some ambivalence. But I have benefitted from giving every one of them my sober and compassionate consideration — much as I have benefited from devoting respectful attention to the Papal Encyclicals. In the end big organizations fail in surprisingly big ways. We hardly need itemize the RCC's substantial failures. But as with the distantly foundational Mother Church, the UCC — even in its current state of cascading collapse — remains a very big organization.

My disagreement with the UCC is a typically Mennonite one — in its formation the UCC adopted a Presbyterian model of authority. “Top down,” in other words. Catholics get their orders from Rome; the UCC gets theirs from Toronto. Many is the Sunday when I hear yet another headline-inspired sermon and, looking over the white-haired remnant of the congregation, wonder if Jesus' admonition of the Pharisees (the Progressives of his day) does not apply to the presbytery — “They bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on people's shoulders.”

I imagine my fellow bicycle-riding tribe-member is as ambivalent about the authority structure hosting his participation as I am with mine. I haven't asked, though. It's probably best we continue pretending we are ignorant of the dissident core smouldering in each other's inner life, and keep to our distinct directions on the road we share. A brief wave of wary acknowledgment is enough.

Endnote: Hey, if you've made it this far there's no need for me to apologize for getting all religious on you — in fact you're probably up for more! It's the Christian Humanists' fault — I found this informed riff off Charles Taylor strangely encouraging; while this interview pretty much embodies exactly what prevents me from seriously entertaining conversion to Catholicism.