Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I can't shake this guy

I saw Lee Henderson again tonight.
I was on Carrall Street, taking the first part of the dinner break of my last nightshift. I missed most of the art, but there was still some lingering around, mixing in with the panhandlers, nightclubbers and other Gastown regulars. He was in a closed circle of conversation. I was eating streetza (which has mysteriously dropped back down to a dollar a slice, after rising to $1.25 last January and then peaking at $1.50 this summer). I thought about going over and introducing myself, but then I saw some coworkers and decided to make awkward smalltalk with them instead.
It's the second time Henderson crept into my life today. I woke up sometime before noon to Jian Ghomeshi promoting tomorrow's episode of Q, where Henderson will argue the relevancy of The Catcher In The Rye.
I first read Catcher in the ninth grade, during my one-year stint at Evan Hardy. Henderson was in Grade 12 that year, and was one of the editors of Crampl, the school's literary and art annual that published at least one of my poems and a pencil drawing of Sting(who I had seen in concert the summer before) I may have traced. Probably not though, as I was drawing a lot that year, mostly copying off Keith Giffen's Legion of Super-Heroes art. I borrowed the book from the school library, which makes it entirely possible that Henderson and I both read The Catcher In The Rye for the first time from the same volume. Which is interesting and isn't. I dunno, it's interesting to me.
Henderson's got a new book out called The Man Game. It looks good. It looks real good. My current moratorium on new books is really hard to uphold. I reviewed his book of short stories, The Broken Record Technique, for the P-Dog way back when. And also interviewed him via email, which is more like exchanging emails and less like interviewing.
On Sunday, I saw him read at the Word on the Street fair downtown. I laughed a little at a part no one else laughed at, more an appreciative laugh at a fine turn of words than a laugh-at-a-joke laugh. I think he looked at me, but I was way in the back.
About a month ago, co-worker Ryan--the man I've spent nearly every single night with for the last year--told me that I look just like Neal Henderson, "you know, the writer?"
What did he write?
"The Man Game."
This was before the book had even been reviewed by the Globe & Mail.
Oh, you mean Lee Henderson.
"Yeah, whatever. You look just like him. We were riding the bus the other day, and this girl was had his book, and she was talking on her cell. She was saying that the book was kind of boring, but she had to read it for a class or something. And Neal I mean Lee was right there. I asked him how that made him feel, and he...."
And then Ryan shrugged his shoulders.
When I got back from my walkabout tonight, I looked in the mirror. I tried to see what Ryan was talking about. Sure, both Henderson and I wear glasses. And we are both wearing checked button-up shirts tonight, just as we both were on Sunday. That's when I noticed a small patch of stubble I missed when I shaved this afternoon. I looked at the shadows under my eyes, the result of two years of working nights. Two years of being underslept and malnourished and missing out on spending time with my wife (who's only been my wife for two months, but, y'know). That all comes to an end tonight. This is my last night shift. I should be commemorating it somehow, but instead I'm thinking about how close Lee Henderson's shave looked tonight. I'm thinking that he doesn't drowsily scrub his face with an electric razor once every couple of days like some character in a Rebus novel. I'm thinking that he takes the time, uses a hot towel and everything. Maybe even eucalyptus. I bet he uses a straightblade, an antique, with something ruggedly arcane on the celluloid handle. Something like a lighthouse with a sea serpent wrapped around it, or well, probably something that looks like an early Marcel Dzama drawing. (Dzama illustrated The Broken Record Technique, so, like, go figure.)

video: "Shiver" by Giant Sand

I was there...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Priced to move!

Starting yesterday, and continuing until it's all gone, lots of comics up for sale, dirt cheap! I'll be adding more everyday, as I get the hang of it. So far I've got some classic Showcase Presents volumes up and there's more where that came from, but I'll be adding collected editions/graphic novels of Green Lantern, the Flash, JLA, Green Arrow, Queen & Country, Batman, Daredevil, Gotham Central (what? yeah!) and assorted other goodies. If there's anything you're curious about, hit me up. I'm hoping to organize some of my single issues into bundles, but that may take a while. Everything's in pretty good shape, and most of it's good comics.

mp3: "Going Out of My Mind Sale" by Johnny Adams

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Well, that's one strategy against child poverty...

Brad Wall, Premier of Saskatchewan, wants to see more 15-yr-olds in the workforce. When minimum wage employers are having a hard time finding people willing to work for wages that don't cover the cost of living, Wall sees an opportunity. Not to let the business community catch up with the supposed free market economy that Wall and his Sask Party buddies so proudly espouse, where labour is no longer a buyer's market and demands fair and dignified wages. No, Wall sees a chance not just to turn back the clock to a time when it wasn't uncommon for Saskatchewan teenagers to drop out before they finished high school, but also to put those supple and small young hands to work folding burger wrappers more nimbly than full-grown adult hands can.
In some jurisdictions, someone illegally employing nearly two dozen underage workers might be looking at criminal charges. But not in Brad Wall's Saskatchewan.

mp3: "Done Got Old" by the Heartless Bastards

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Even my rejection letters make me happy

"Fucking good writing and clearly informed but funny too," the editor wrote. Excepting only "mind-bogglingly large cheque enclosed", these are the words you most hope to read in reply to a submission query.

My life is insanely great right now. It's not perfect, not by a long shot. But stepping back and looking at the big picture, things have never been better. I could list them all, but that'd just be cocky, and would probably jinx all the great things that are right around the corner.

mp3: "I Believe In You" by Lambchop

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"We had to endure it and want our revenge."

Ebert again. On the role of The Critic. Right now The New is more in need of discovery and defence than ever before, as our politicians try to score points by railing against imaginary elites they fear secretly rule the world.

And there's no bigger secret elite the rockers of Saskatoon. They're so secret, hardly anyone's ever even of heard of them, let alone heard 'em. So consider yourself priveliged. You're about to get Saved By Saskatoon, which is the name of a brand new compilation from Saved By Radio/Saved By Vinyl, a Calgary record label that puts out some of the finest CanRock this side of the Canadian Sheild.

mp3: "Class Action Lawsuit" by Junior Pantherz
mp3: "My Ghost Your Ghost" by Pearson

Monday, September 22, 2008

I think the Invisible Hand that guides the Economy just touched me under my bathing suit...

But seriously, folks... I guess this the kind of intervention that results from economic policy that doesn't believe in government intervention. Strangely, Stephen Harper doesn't want to influence any elections, not the one down there, and especially not the one up here, by giving his opinion. Probably because in the past he's supported and promoted the same kind of laissez-faire approach to the economy that led what looks to be of the biggest corporate welfare grabs in history. As the NY Times puts it, "It is the financial equivalent of the Patriot Act."

The Rock & Roll equivalent of the Patriot Act, an album called Going Steady, meanwhile, was released in Regina over the weekend. The mighty Rah Rah, a conglomerate of kids born in an era when jowled titans like John Crosbie and Joe Clark roamed the earth. They write beautiful songs about the ugly things, and they live in Regina--where there's a lot of ugly things to write about. I'm still waiting for a song about the old Superstore building where Downtown meets North Central, where the city shrugs its shoulders and claims no responsibility. While I wait, though, here's a song that mentions good ol' Dave Batters, the beleagured outgoing Tory MP for Palliser. Immortalized in song! That oughtta raise his spirits.

mp3: "The Innocent One" by Rah Rah

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's Strange How I Admire Old Men

There is perhaps no other time in a man's life when he so scrutinizes the stuff his idols are made of than when he's making a list of potential names for his firstborn child. We've come to an informal agreement that I'm in charge of coming up with male names, and Nicole's handling female names. It might seem a little sexist on the surface, but, y'know, Nicole didn't spend the better part of her pre-adolescence thinking up names she'd rather be called than Emmet*. Well, I hope she didn't. That would be kinda disturbing if she did.

It's become painfully obvious to me that my heroes have always been either shitheels or schmucks--and occasionally a little of both. My favourite writers are generally the worst of the lot, a trainwreck of drunks, creeps, and the odd anti-semite. My favourite fictional characters don't fare much better, from crypto-fascists to workaholic louts. As always, the literary world has let me down.

Jazzbos shine a little brighter in the character department, but their names tend towards being so common their significance would be lost. So scratch Ken, Diz, or Albert. There's a certain amount of cachet in using jazzers' last names as first names, but that's problematic too. Mingus is a great name for a cat, but a kid? Dolphy, meanwhile has two knocks against it. A) I'd really hate for someone to think it's short for Adolph. B) Who the hell wants to go through third grade named Dolphy?

Names is hard. Hard like math. But the Theater Fire is easy. Last we heard from the Fort Worth, TX octet, they were travelling undercover as the Howling Hex on You Can't Beat Tomorrow, both the album and the variety show. They've got a new album, Matter and Light, not coming out until December (lotsa fun stuff happening this December! Can't wait!), but were kind enough to send a teaser, which is absolutely the best thing I've heard all year (sorry, everyone else). "Swashbuckler Blues", heard below, recalls Muswell Hillbillies + I dunno, Calexico x just about everything I like in music right now. Watch this space for more on the
Theatre Fire in coming weeks.

mp3: "Swashbuckler Blues" by The Theater Fire

* I have long ago made peace with my first name and come to not only like, but to revel in it.

EDIT: for about 45 minutes, I accidentally had the wrong song linked above. Just long enough for the Hype Machine to pick up on it. Oops. The above song is now corrected, and if you're looking for a hot track from the upcoming Rah Rah album, check back soon!

Monday, September 15, 2008


Crazy. I keep posting, and this page keeps popping up EMPTY. BUMMER. Louis CK is coming to Vancouver. Nov. 14. Vogue Theatre. I AM SO THERE.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ebert explains Palin

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but Roger Ebert is one of my all-time favourite writers. I wrote him a fan letter once, but thanks to a typo--I left out one lousy four-letter word--it came out all wrong. Instead of being an amusing anecdote with what I felt was a clever twist, it ended up being a semi-coherent awshucks-fest. That's what one word can do.

What led me to write was two things. One, Ebert's review of Gus Van Sant's Gerry. The movie that hadn't even been on my radar, but by 2003 I had figured out how read Ebert's copy on the L-P sked in advance of publication and did so often. Two, a friend of my brother told me that his mom was a fan of my writing. They had recently seen me walking down 13th and Jesse's pal pointed me out to his mom. She was surprised at my appearance, she told her son. From the way I wrote, she always thought I would look like Roger Ebert. "I took this," I closed my letter to Ebert with, "as a compliment."

I wouldn't have even known there was anything wrong with my letter if Ebert wasn't a classy enough guy to write back. "From the sounds of it, you do," was his entire missive. What the hell was that supposed to mean? Then I read back over my original. Instead writing that my brother's friend's mom thought I would look like Ebert, I left out look, which made me look like a dumb jerk.

I remember considering writing Ebert again to explain my typo, but finally decided that the best thing to do was not draw more attention to my dumb ass.

Moral: proofread, proofread, proofread

The point of posting this now: Ebert sums up GOP vice-prez wannabe Sarah Palin. While I admire his movie writing to no end, and they more often than not offer up meditations on meatbag existence in general, I sure the hell enjoy it when he steps outside the theatre.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Another Reason to Stick To TV

One of the few things I get to have an active role in during this magical time of expectancy is clearing out my playroom--er, home office--so we can turn it into a baby room. Or a nursery. One or the other. I'm not sure which. I don't even know what the difference is. I think a nursery is supposed to have trees. Or tree-themed wallpaper?

Speaking of trees, mainly what I'm doing is getting rid of books. I love books. I love buying them, I love reading them, I love looking at 'em. Some of my fondest childhood memories are spending what felt like entire afternoons scouring the shelves of the Mayfair Branch of the Saskatoon Public Library, or on special occasions the awesome main branch downtown--whose children's section was the stuff of legend, especially Pooh Corner, which I remember as being accessible only by a tunnel too small for adults to fit. Mainly I was interested in the Hardy Boys series, the old blue hardcovers, which had a strange smell about them I would come to associate with books. For my birthday, maybe my 6th or 7th, I got The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook, which was the most mind-bending piece of literature I'd seen since The Empire Strikes Back Book-on-Record.

A few times, my ambition would get the better of my reading level. I once checked out an Albert Einstein biography that was beyond me, but luckily my mom took a break from the Narnia and Madeleine L'Engle books that were the staples of bedtime to read it to me. Whatever I gleaned from having the book read to me is now forever intermingled with dim memories of the Yahoo Serious movie. Einstein's afterlife, however, I'm much more clear on.

Anyway, the baby room. My books. I've got too many. I need to get rid of some. Right. Because supposedly a baby and a mountain of books can't co-exist. So this afternoon I filled my biggest backpack full of books and trudged over to my favourite used book store on Main Street. It's the place I would go to find the books I have to get rid of if I hadn't already read them. It's curious the way the dynamic changes when the clerk realizes you're in there to get rid of books rather than buy them. When I'm buying books there, there's plenty of chat and small talk, what we in the business like to call relationship-building. When I'm trying to lighten my literary load, on the other hand, it's polite but terse. No small talk. At all.

So the clerk is going through my pile of books. He examines the books and divides them into two piles. With every new volume he rifles through, I have to resist a growing urge to snatch the books back and run down the street screaming, "NEVER! You'll never get my books! They're mine! All mine!"

But really, rationally, what do I need with my old copy of Kerouac's Big Sur? Am I going to read it again? Not a chance. I'd sooner reread Desolation Angels or Dr. Sax anyday. Which is why I'm keeping them. Just in case. I have an unreasonable fantasy that I'm going to reread all my favourite books--not when I'm old, but, like, this weekend. Yeah, fat chance. I get it. So let them take my books. Let someone else carry that weight.

The clerk takes a second look at my run of early 00s Best American Crime Writing anthologies, and suddenly I decide that those are the most indispensible books I've ever owned. Now they're going to be gone forever! I can feel a panic attack coming. The clerk shifts them over to the pile closest to me. "These ones," he says, pointing at that pile of books, "thanks, but no thanks." A wave of relief. Although I'm shocked and a little saddened he didn't want my copy of The Last Honest Man.

The clerk makes me a very reasonable offer on store credit for a little over half the books I lugged in, and I take it. I should take cash, but you get less, and who am I kidding, I'm going to buy more books. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but Friday. Friday, I'm definitely going to buy more books. I've already eyed-up a copy of the recent Houdini biography on the shelf at the front of the store. Sorry, Nicole.

mp3: "Television" by Robyn Hitchcock
mp3: "Television Man" by Man...Or Astro-man?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Hmmm, doesn't quite carry the weight you'd think

From CBC, 4 former PMs join call for climate change action. Thing is, the former Prime Ministers are Joe Clark, Kim Campbell, John Turner and Paul Martin. Not exactly an all-star line-up. An only slightly more noteworthy bunch than the current cast of This Hour Has 22 Minutes.

Meanwhile, we do have some cool news from some actual heavyhitters. Regina's Sylvie have got artwork, tracklisting and a release date (Oct 21)--along with the all-important pre-ordering info--for their new album Trees and Shade Are Our Only Fences on their label's website. No actual tracks yet, but one or two teasers should be forthcoming. In the meantime, here's a number from their last alb, An Electric Trace. And what the hell, how about the video?

mp3: "Rise and Fall" by Sylvie

The Door I Came Through Has Been Closed

Stephen Harper's reasons for calling an election one full year before the date he himself chose to fix in Parliament will likely remain his own, at least during the course of the campaign.
Perhaps he hoped to send us to the polls before we follow the US economy too far into the toilet. Or maybe he's afraid of what might be revealed in the coming inquiries into the many Tory scandals that have yet to go before full public scrutiny. Or maybe there's something even worse right around the corner.
Whatever his reasons, the move is typical of a PM obsessed with excercising absolute control since the day he took office. From neutering the national press corps to muzzling Environment Canada's scientists, Harper has done everything within his power (and then some) to silence his critics--except, of course, conducted himself as if the title "Right Honourable" was something other than a nicety that came with his current job.
One of Harper's biggest tentpoles in the 2006 campaign was his US-style War on Daycare, the result of which has been that Canadian working families now have a better chance of having hip surgery before they get their kids into daycare. And when the leader of our nation displays such gross indifference toward Canadian children, how surprised were we that he and his government have no love for an initiative that has been shown to improve drug addicts' likelihood of entering treatment--let alone of living long enough to enter rehab, reduce the spread of Hep C and HIV, and save the health care system some money.
And if Harper's craven disregard (to put it charitably) for the lowest end of the socio-economic spectrum doesn't faze you, how about the fact that while Prime Minister, he continued to debate the existence of climate change even as the polar ice caps receded a little further into oblivion. Not only was he unwilling to do anything about it, he was unwilling to even entertain the thought of doing anything about.
Global Warming just might be the greatest challenge Canadian society has ever faced, and Prime Minister Harper has spent much of his first term in office with his fingers in his ears, singing "La la la, if I can't hear you you're not there! La la la!"
Even when Liberal Leader Stephane Dion drafted his Green Shift policy--which, at best, will slow the accelleration of Canada's contribution to the damage being done by carbon dioxide emissions--Harper chose to attack it on a purely economic level. As if anyone will give a shit about the TSX when the oceans boil, if you'll excuse the hyperbole.

And that's why it's good to know Portland OR's Old Time Relijun will be making their first BC appearance in five years this Thursday, Sept. 11 at the Biltmore.

mp3: "The Door I Came Through Has Been Closed" by Old Time Relijun
mp3: "Sabretooth Tyger" by Old Time Religion
mp3: "Everything Is Broken" by Old Time Religion

See Jesse Eat. Eat, Jesse, Eat.

If this video makes you uncomfortable, imagine being related to the guy.

(buy the album here)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Wait, issuing a news release is brave now?

While my sympathy goes out to Regina Tory MP Dave Batters as he deals with his mental health and drug addiction issues, is what he did really worthy of the praise being heaped upon him by the mental health community?
Okay, sure, as a public figure, he deserves some credit for bringing mental health issues to public eye. But as an elected member of Parliament, a member of the ruling government even, isn't a press release really the least he could have done for mental health?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Dear Regina: Don't Eff This Up

Some good news to share:

-Former Regina Police Service Chief Calvin Johnston (not to be confused with Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening and Dub Narcotic Sound System) is running for the Liberals in Regina Palliser. During his service as Regina's top cop, Johnston repeatedly proved himself to be a stand-up-guy with a keen understanding of a broad array of justice-related issues. He should have a decent shot, especially since the incumbent MP, Conservative Dave Batters, is stepping down to deal with a benzo addiction. Those conservatives...the rhetoric sure falls short of, y'know, real life. Dave, you have my sympathy. If I had to work for a boss whose only consistency was general incompetence, I'd suffer "anxiety and depression" too. Said Batters in his press release, "There is still a stigma attached to such illnesses and I want to make sure people realize these are conditions that can strike anyone and need to be treated." I'm not sure which "conditions" he's talking about, but if he means drug addiction, then he's off the party line, according to Harper's promise of "a short and miserable life" for drug addicts.

-Frances Bula is back! The former Vancouver Sun civic affairs reporter and blogger now has a blog under her very own name that is every bit as essential to unpacking life in Vancouver as her old Sun blog was.

mp3: "Monkey Hips and Rice" by Dub Narcotic Sound System

Two years without a byline

"Passing to Where?"

Sometimes I take out my passport,

look at the photograph of myself

(not very good, etc.)

just to see if I exist

June 12, 1976

by Richard Brautigan

I left Regina near the end of August, 2006. Mainly because I was bored. I had outlived my usefulness to the city and vice versa. But we were still on speaking terms. It had been a rough couple of years for me and the Queen City. Both Buzzword Books and X-Ray Records closed up shop, and while Dave re-opened the record store a few months later and a few blocks over, the inbetween time cost me a lot of my faith in Regina to be the kind of place I wanted to live in. Sure, I love Regina as much as the next guy, but I was starting to get the feeling that Regina didn't love me back.

I had given the city my mercurial youth, wrapped up my ambitions in its ridiculous flag, and in my Quixotic folly, I believed I would be rewarded. Perhaps it was my definition of reward that got me in trouble. Chasing wealth and popular respect, I only found a chip on my shoulder. At the very least, I wanted to believe that I could expect to make a real living from my writing without leaving the city.

The problem was, I had no idea what I was doing. My sense of self was so entangled with seeing my name in print--like the Richard Brautigan poem at the top of the post--that I couldn't let go of my stalled-out writing career. I had a couple of promising leads that I hoped would take me to the next level...but various reasons, both only led to more frustration and dashed efforts. Neither of them won me anywhere near the money they initially promised, and since by then I was measuring my success by the size of my cheques.

And then...I walked away. As of this past weekend, I haven't written for money in two years (a milestone which officially ends my eligibility for membership in the Writers Guild of Canada--not that I was ever a member, but I considered it). My last paid article was an interview with the Zombies for the Leader-Post, a nice bookend to a tour of duty that started with a Joe Cocker interview. I haven't even drafted a query letter since I left R-Town.

Obviously, I haven't stopped writing. What you see on this blog is just the tip of the iceberg--and also the Titanic. I've got stuff on the go, stuff I've enjoyed writing more than I've enjoyed writing stuff in years. Stuff that's been seen by no one's eyes but my own.

But last month--has it been a month already???--my uncle Rick told me that he's read my blog and he doesn't understand half of it. OK. Let's face it, it's got no form, no theme, no purpose. But Rick also said that he used to enjoy reading my interviews with people. And y'know what, I used to enjoy conducting interviews with people. Most people. Some people, not really. But the point is... hey, there's no reason I can't still do interviews. So let's do some interviews.

mp3: "Lying on a Beach" by Joel Plaskett
mp3: "Sunshine and Grease" by Royal Trux

Monday, September 01, 2008

No Good Reason: New Howling Hex Track!

Earth Junk is the name of the album, due out on the 23rd of this September-y month. Drag City's got a track up, get it while you can. They don't usually leave mp3's up for more than a month.

It's been about a year since their last LP, XI, which is a long time between releases for Neil Hagerty. For the last ten years or so, going back to the Accelerator album from Royal Trux, NMH has routinely let loose two, sometimes three releases per year, even it's just an EP or a weird cover of a Dire Straits song. But there's been nothing but blog (awesomely weird stuff, mind you) since XI from the Hag, so Earth Junk might be the most hotly anticipated Howling Hex album since the first one.