Tuesday, March 31, 2020

When last I visited the record store...

On Saturday March 6 my wife and I met her brother in Belleville. He and his wife, plus another sister avec husband, gathered with the two of us for breakfast and caught up on events. My bro-in-law just received a diagnosis — the Big C. We’re all grateful, of course, for the astonishing advances in treatment. And we hope all things, don’t we? It was lovely to see each other and share a common meal — the last such occasion in what might be a very long time.

The day before, we’d stopped at the Quinte Mall. While my wife committed to her own shopping concerns, I stuck to mine — a visit to the last surviving Sam The Record Man. The place is a trip — seriously, check out this gallery.
I loaded my arms, but these two discs are the highlight of my cache from that day — Rory Gallagher’s Blues with Chess Records, and Life. Legacy. Music., a single disc retrospective of Streetheart.
Streetheart is a Canadian rock band whose heyday coincided with my adolescence. They headlined and filled arenas up here, and did not too badly in the US and Europe as well, opening for some mighty big names. Their sound is unique for a rock band, because the bulk of songs were clearly written by someone who learned music theory by way of piano — that’d be Daryl Gutheil. Guitarists had to be adaptable to play this stuff, and much of Streetheart’s earliest music, prior to that era when keyboard synthesizers and drum-machine beats became the mainstay, remains interesting to listen to.

Vocalist Kenny Shields died three years ago, but I gather the band is still doing its thing — or will return to doing its thing, once this pandemic gets in hand.

As for Rory Gallagher, I took note of the Chess collection when it was released, but figured I didn’t need any more RG. But there at Sam’s I saw it, held it, and realized I was feeling differently about it, so I bought it. And I’m glad I did. It’s not essential Rory Gallagher, but it is crazy good.

Not essential, but crazy good — seems a terrible distinction to make, somehow. It brings to mind my earlier theory that, for this listener at least, maximal artist absorption seems to peak at three albums. It’s a theory that still holds true for me. Given how difficult it is to mull over anything not plague related, it might be time to resume listing — I’m thinking a series of “Three albums by...” posts.

Do stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Taking pause

Sundays used to be deadly boring, back in the 70s.
No, really...
Everything in the village was closed, except for the Grow Sir, and how much soft-serve ice cream could a kid actually consume in a given day? If you were bored enough, and you (ahem) permitted yourself access to the parental change jar, you found out — once.

Then it was back to normal. Which was boring.

Sunday afternoon television was programming brought to you from the Most Boring Pit of Hell. Of the four channels caught by the roof antenna, only two were commercial channels from the city. One played a long boring movie frequently interrupted by the same four local ads, the other offered sports with the exact same ads. The other two were the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation —  one delivered English Canadian content, the other French. The English had Hymn Sing, the French had something involving two or three fellows in bucket chairs talking excitedly over each other.

You could read a book for an hour, maybe two if you were a particularly nerdy kid. But sooner or later the walls closed in, and you had to go outside.

If it was winter, maybe you dragged the toboggan to the hill just west of town. Or maybe you and the neighborhood kids played Fox and Goose in someone’s pristinely snow-blanketed garden. Some kids played road hockey, but in the 70s nobody had money for a net. You used giant blocks of road snow for goal posts, and a sponge puck, which you chased down the street after someone “scored.”

If it was summer, you could ride your bike to a friend’s place and kill time there, reading his comic books for a change. Sporty types might play a little football, or if you had one of those small plastic footballs from the hardware store you could play “Aunty-Aunty-Over” for a few minutes — hucking the little ball over the roof of your house and hoping your friend on the other side wouldn’t catch it, race around the building and claim his due reward — a vicious punch to your shoulder.

Sundays were so freaking boring, church truly was a relief — even Sunday night service. For an hour or two you could quell the dread you felt over your freakishly changing body by contemplating the wondrous transformations taking place amongst the others. And if your youth pastor was hip you put together musicals and puppet shows.

You learned songs you probably still sing to yourself, forty years on.


Flash-forward to 1990. I was in Toronto, the Centre Of The Universe, and the 70s were LONG gone.

And yet Sundays were still boring. The only stores open were mom-and-pop corner stores, everything else was closed. And in theory you had 57 channels, but with the exception of Much Music (how long you stayed tuned depended on how many repetitions of C+C Music Factory you could endure) the content hadn’t really changed. If you were in your 20s the best you could do was ride your bike to a buddy’s to see if he had any beer in his fridge. Plus ça change.

And Bob Rae — the guy I didn’t just vote, but actually campaigned, for — was he seriously hoping to enforce a “common pause day” in Ontario? A day I could better spend pinballing from one record store to the next, when I wasn’t ensconcing myself in the World’s Biggest Bookstore? Ex-squeeze me? Rae’s idea truly was just that self-evidently, spectacularly BAD.
Give the people what they want, Bob.

Flash-forward to 2020. A friend owns and operates the local hardware store. It’s been a seven-days-a-week affair since '92. “We closed one day for my mother’s funeral,” he tells me. “It took just over two weeks for the numbers to get back up to the daily norm.” He, too, remembers — rather wistfully — when Sundays were boring.

Now I’m doing a little basic math. Most years have 52 Sundays — multiply that by 28 and you get a total of 1,456 24-hour units we collectively fed through the consumption machine. Factor in Leap Years and round up just a tad, and that’s four years we’re talking about.

If that’s how many common pause days are now required of us, I sure hope there is a merciful God — because we’re gonna need help.
"Come, let us sing..."

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Party Of Shine

I am having such a blast listening to this band/album/group of songs — Party Of Shine.
Social media flagged them for me. Jeff Johnson, formerly of this band, is the driving force of said Party. Tommy Womack wrote copy for their debut, and I cannot in any way improve on anything he said, so do check it out. With Tommy I will affirm elements of Crazy Horse, MC5 and early Stooges, and make personal note of just a soupçon of Nick Cave in the mix. It’s chunky growl and howl delivered in a hearty sauce of clatter and fuzz — good fer what ails ya.
Direct quote: "We sound like Duran Duran ... in Hell!"
Party Of Shine is streaming at all the usual locations. It’s a fact that Apple pays better than most, but it’s still pennies-per-glass, so please just hit “buy all” and give the boys another mittful of change to keep the Party going.

Party Of Shine: homepage, Facebook page.
Another shot of Whisky: Tommy Womack.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

“Happy happy, joy joy...”

Well, here we are.
"We'll meet again/Don't know where, don't know when..."
On Thursday morning I consulted my notes. “Toronto The (not so) Good” was the strongest contender for this week’s post.

I wasn’t looking forward to it. It was mopey material, for one thing. Worse, most of what I was gassing on about could be found elsewhere — “This town has lost its snap,” basically. And my only potentially unique insight could be summed up in two bullet points:
  • Car is a terrible way to get around the city.
  • Car is the best way to get around the city.
I have no idea how city and provincial and national governments can come together to turn that equation on its head, other than to make public transit free to all (which has always struck me as a no-brainer, but then I’m not a politician who has to work within volatile public expectations of what is acceptable and what is beyond the pale). I can only profer my sincere best wishes to all involved.

I typed the above words and a few hundred more. Eventually I noticed my newsfeed getting increasingly agitated. The headlines changed every 30 seconds. And they were changing about exactly one subject, to the point where the escalation of violence between Iranian-backed militia and UK/US troops — resulting in US casualties — was a distant footnote of passing concern.

OK then.

The various newsletters I subscribe to all have their Asian correspondents, and without exception they’ve been outstandingly magnanimous toward their Western readers. They exhibit, I must say, remarkable depth of character. The temptation to open fire on collective (and, let’s face it, singular) stupidity must be enormous — I know I’m having trouble staring it down.

Instead, they suggest some gentle tactics for dealing with the new reality. Including:
  • Find something to make you happy at home.
My guitar has gathered some dust since Christmas. At some point I grew discouraged with the plateau I’d reached, and let that discouragement feed my laziness, and vice-versa. Out it now comes.

Hey, if you’ve got happy-making home-based activities, please share.

One final note, in the Never let a serious crisis go to waste category:

Both my adult children have lovingly confronted the 'rents on ways we can make better choices for a sustainable human future. We can all do better — so why not? Why not apply some of the heat we now feel in the fever of this COVID moment to the collective challenge of being more responsible and, for those of us who ascribe to the mindset, grateful stewards of our natural home?

Monday, March 09, 2020

Attractions and distractions

Twenty-plus years ago, when our family left the city for the rural routes of Ontario, the first people to welcome us were Denis Grignon and his lovely wife Nancy Payne. After our first shared meal I thought we’d been given the low-down on pretty much everything going on in these parts. Over the years and over many more visits, many of them mano e' mano with Denis, I’ve realized I am still just scratching the surface.
Portrait of podcaster, with fuel for fire.
Denis is a super-inquisitive guy, friendly to all, and keen to suss out a good story no matter who he’s with. He’s worked for CBC, been the morning guy for BOB radio, and is a sought-after stand-up comic — an engaging and entertaining chap, in other words. So I have no difficulty recommending his new podcast, The Advocate Podcast: Stories from Kawartha Lakes.

I’m happy he’s doing this. He and I tend to get together once or twice a year, and I always feel like I should have my notebook and pen handy because he is a trove of inside information for this neck of the woods, and a few others I’ve yet to set foot in. His bi-weekly podcast is, at this point, only two episodes in — and alongside a wide array of local event info, I’ve already learned the definition of “consanguineous” and which food-item should never ever be introduced to the community chili pot. Check it out.

Also: I’ve a handful of posts that draw a near-continuous flow — well, trickle really — of traffic. One of the tops is The Inexorcisable John Gardner. Today, while scrolling through back-end stats, I discovered the commenter who cleared the research block at the beginning of my post has a blog of his ownYears Of The B.A.S.S.: A Journey Through The Best American Short Stories Anthology from 1978-2019.
Portrait of blogger, with grist for mill.
It’s a fabulous concept I wish I’d thought of. Blogger Jakon uses the anthologies, introductions and stories as springboards for personal recollections and thoughts that launch out in some truly unique directions. I’m having a hoot catching up with his past entries (twelve years’ worth!) and look forward to more. Check it out.

Friday, March 06, 2020

Supersuckers, Play That Rock 'n' Roll

I’m grinning.
All eleven herbs and spices are present and accounted for, the oil in the fryer is fresh, and this is hands-down the tastiest basket of chicken-fried rock ‘n’ roll I’ve had in ages.

And Eddie Spaghetti — how does this guy keep the back alley wordplay so fresh? “That’s A Thing?” somehow manages to further mine the Dad Rock hilarity of “What’s Up (With This **********ing Thing?)” so now I’m holding out hope for a triptych. And I’m guessing he’s the genius who resurrected Allen Toussaint’sA Certain Girl” — a song that gets all its traction from the evident fun everybody’s having while performing it.

America, this man and his band are a national treasure.

Get Play That Rock 'n' Roll here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

The Black History Month that was

Over at PopMatters Mark Montgomery French has, in celebration of this leap year’s Black History Month, curated 29 black music documentaries. Quite the gift, really — most of these were completely new to me.

I also admit I followed French from day to day, quietly hoping he’d get around to A Band Called Death or Bad Brains: A Band in DC. But, lucky me — I get to claim the privilege!

Check out French’s list, 29 Black Music Documentaries for Black History Month 2020. And please consider adding these two docs to your playlist.