Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Choice of Frenemies: Reader Mail

"The internet gives us the illusion that we're wonderfully gregarious people. When we type away on discussion boards and post comments on one another's blogs, it feels as if we're sitting outside a pub in the evening sunshine with our attractive, cool friends. But we aren't. That's what we did before we got addicted to the internet. Instead we perform some empty, unsatisfying facsimile of that. We sit alone in our rooms, becoming more and more isolated from society. And, inevitably, this turns us into mad, yelling, wild-eyed loons."
That's Jon Ronson, the British writer and broadcaster, from a May, 2007 column in the Guardian, and also from a BBC4 Radio doc.
It's not the first time I've posted that passage, but I think it's time again. Not so much because you need to read it, but because I do. Maybe you haven't noticed it, but there's been a certain smugness creeping into the ol' bloggue lately. Nick Miliokas noticed.
"Instead of coming across as an intelligent commentator, you came across as an asshole," he writes. "And even a strong argument is difficult to make from way up in there. I tell you this for your own good."
Something to think about over the next few weeks as I take my summer hiatus and go back to that part of the world what sprung me and spewed me forth. I don't know when I'll get back to blogging, but I'm sure I won't be long without an opinion, ill-advised or ill-expressed, that I can't contain.
Nick also sent in a list of restaurants you would probably never want to eat at unless, like me, you were an out-of-control Mordecai Richler nut:
1. Son of a Smaller Hero Sandwich
2. A Choice of Entrees
3. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Radish
4. Cork, Sir?
5. St. Urbain's Horsemeat
6. Joshua Hen and Sow
7. Solomon Gherkin Was Here
Pat, either Fiacco or Book (I know they both read the blog), also sent in a lit-chit:
Omlette (Hamlet)
Grape Expectations
the Ketchup On The Rye
Lord of the Fries
the Fry Machine
Finally, Sask-Lit titan Cliff Burns dropped a note on my pouty post about Regina:
To tell you the truth, Saskatoon is more like my kinda town. It just seems hipper, less uptight, more open and artsy. I lived in Regina for over 10 years and formed some roots...but with the loss of places like Buzzword Books in the Cathedral area, friends who have moved on, it's just a place I visit (and very rarely).

Before I go any further, I highly recommend you seek out a copy of Burns's Righteous Blood (straight from the guy himself is probably your best bet!), a twisted pair of horrific novellas impressive for both their ambitious imagination and economy of narrative.
Anyway, thanks for reading, Cliff! I'm glad you mentioned Buzzword, because it was actually the memory of that 13th Ave. bookstore that prompted the essay. The first draft actually wound up being an attempt to talk myself into moving back to Regina to open up a bookstore. I nearly had myself convinced.
But man, Gord pushed so many great books and authors on me, and also just had weird and interesting stuff on hand. He pushed all the big name writers from The Wire (Price, Pelecanos & Lehane) on me before The Wire was even a concern. He always had a great selection of books on jazz, like the Roland Kirk biog Bright Moments. When Buzzword shut down, well, that was kinda the beginning of the end for me in Regina. There were lots of other factors, but none so thematic as the loss of a cultural landmark in my own personal Queen City topography.


Durham, N.C.'s Megafaun is in town tonight, playing a show at the Biltmore. They sound kinda like the psychedelic-side of the Sadies mixed with the Alan Parsons Project. In a good way. So it's no surprise they're pals with Bon Iver. They're pushing their new record, Gather, Form & Fly.
mp3: "The Fade" by Megafaun

Friday, July 24, 2009

I really need to stop reading the L-P

As someone who despite everything actually does love Regina--so much so that I wouldn't cheapen such a love by advertising it on a t-shirt (a mug, meanwhile, totally classy)--I'm incredibly disheartened to read the Leader-Post's Kevin Blevins's blog post about critics of the proposed domed stadium in Regina.
Sure, he's not the first L-P opinion writer to combine a small and dim worldview with unimaginative and lazy prose, nor is he the only Reginan who seems to think that anyone who criticizes the Queen City's abysmal record of dealing with urban issues like sprawl, poverty, addiction, housing, transit, business development , etc. is a hare-brained communist.
"A city is many things," Blevins writes in response to Regina activist Jim Elliott's criticisms, "And it can't just be about trying to solve poverty issues, which seems to be Elliott's position over and over again."
Maybe, just maybe, if Regina actually did something to address its poverty issues, Elliott wouldn't have to stand up for them over and over again.
I'm not going to fume too much over this here, because Wade already did and the Jurist already boiled it down. If you want to read how a real journalist blogs about Regina's dome of destiny, here's Will Chabun on the matter.

If I've had Regina on the brain lately, it's because I'll be there during the first two weeks of August. I mean, isn't there enough urban blight in Vancouver to keep me occupied?

mp3: "The Place Where We Lived" by Hayden

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Oh, Regina, You Virgin Queen

Here's a short essay I wrote that ran in the prairie dog about a month ago.

My friends Scotty and Kristen, of the pop group the Choir Practice, came back to Vancouver last summer after playing shows in Regina with shocking news. They loved it.
This was not what I was used to hearing from touring musicians who play my hometown. Empty clubs or inattentive bar crowds who talk through the whole set are the usual reports from the road, so Scotty and Kristen’s raves about their enthusiastic audience and great gigs left me a little confused. Then Kristen gushed about the vibrant downtown and beautiful Victoria Park. And that’s when I knew what they were talking about.
They didn’t play a show in Regina, they played the Regina Folk Festival. A totally different beast. The Folk Festival is one of several times throughout the summer when, like the lost city of Shangri La, a different Regina reveals itself. It’s the Platonic Ideal of Regina, a place where arts, culture, food and community are valued and celebrated. It’s a city that approaches the cosmopolitan. It’s the Regina that Regina could be all the time, if only it would let itself.
That’s not the Regina I left three years ago. The Regina I walked away from was the one with only one, almost quixotic movie screen left downtown. It was the city whose economic growth didn’t have room for the inner city neighbourhoods, where urban sprawl is valued over urban growth. It was a city that no longer had a centrally-located new bookstore where you could just easily find Saskatchewan authors Dianne Warren, Cliff Burns and Dave Margoshes alongside works by Noam Chomsky, George Pelecanos or Richard Meltzer. It was a city I wasn’t sure shared my values anymore. It was a city I had little confidence in.
A few years ago, back when I still believed in Regina, my friend Mike Burns, that great promoter and defender of the arts in Regina, liked to repeat a line from the David Mamet film State and Main: “Everybody makes their own fun. If you don’t make it yourself, it isn’t fun. It’s entertainment.”
It all seems so easy and simple during the honeyed days of summer. From the Cathedral Street Fair to the Folk Festival to the Farmers Market, there’s that Ideal Regina, making its own fun. That’s the Regina I love, that’s the Regina I miss.
I keep hearing that Regina’s changed these last three years, I hope it’s been for the better.

Restaurants with Bad Service

Last night, while I was making my famous gazpacho, aka Mathezpacho, Nicole and I made up names of restaurants based on books. Here are some of them, along with some further gags:
Barney's Venison
The Three Muskox-Eaters
The Grape Gatsby
A Complicated Winelist
Szechuan & Sensibility
Slaughterhouse Fries
A Farewell to Coleslaw
The Coleslaw of the Wild
Are You There God? It's Me, Coleslaw
A Coleslaw Orange
The French Lieutenant's Coleslaw
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Coleslaw
The Spy Who Came In From The Coleslaw.
thank you, goodnight.

mp3: "Memory of a Specific Silence - to Paul Auster" by Mats Gustafsson

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Frank Black is the Capital of Kansas

originally published in the July 2/09 edition of prairie dog magazine. Black Francis plays solo acoustic at the Exchange on Wed., July 8.

In between breaking up the Pixies in 1992 and reuniting with them in 2004, Black Francis released nine albums as Frank Black. The first song on his 1993 self-titled solo debut was “Los Angeles”. The last song on 2003’s Show Me Your Tears, his final album with his country-rock band the Catholics, was “Manitoba”. Kind of like Nia Vardalos in reverse.
Now, a decade might seem like a long time to cover the distance from the world capital of show biz to the longitudinal centre of Canada, but consider this: In 25 years of writing Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler never achieved the required artistic confidence or intestinal certitude to send his private investigator to The Pas. Frank Black not only went there (at least in his song), but he brought in Van Dyke Parks to work on it.
Fascinatingly, during the 1920s, Manitoba had a provincial treasurer by the name Francis Black.
The Pixies’ six-year-run of off-kilter, noisy pop and infighting makes for great rock & roll mythologizing, and it’s hard to argue with Surfer Rosa and Doolittle as two of the best albums of the 80s, but it would be a shame to overlook--as many do--Francis’s solo career, which has been just as interesting, rewarding and often as surprising as his Pixies material.
He’s travelled through styles, growing out of the Pixies’ sound over his first three albums. He’s done country songs and soul songs, and even cut an album of wild minimalist electro-jazz remakes of Pixies songs with David Thomas of Pere Ubu’s collaborators Two Pale Boys. He quit making records for labels in the 90s, just before labels quit making records. Instead, he makes his own albums and then licenses them to labels for promotion and distribution. He once told me that he’s taken voice training. He’s one of the most down-to-earth people ever to record an album inspired by a semi-obscure Dutch painter (2007’s Blue Finger celebrates the late Herman Brood). Lately, he’s started a new band with his wife Violet called Grand Duchy and released their debut album earlier this year. He’s equally effective singing about Pong as he is about Spanish missionaries showing up in what would become the state of California. He’s an artist who is endlessly fascinating because he himself seems endlessly fascinated with the world.
In 1998 he recorded a song about Jonathan Richman, a fellow Bostonian whose first band the Modern Lovers cut what was probably the first actual punk rock album in 1972, but broke up before it was released in 1976. Richman, in fact, had by that time completely changed his sound, and to this day disappoints fans who come out to hear “She Cracked” by singing about Johan Vermeer. Surely there was some self-reflection involved when Frank Black wrote “The Man Who Was Too Loud.” I wonder if he’ll play that song at his upcoming acoustic show when Pixies fans shout out for “Debaser”?

Vancouver-related: Mats Gustafsson of The Thing was in town last week, playing half a dozen shows for the ends-today Jazz Festival, and I missed them all. But the new Thing album Bag It! is killer.

mp3: "Drop the Gun" by the Thing

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Frank Black Francis is the A.J. Liebling of Rock

"The only way to write is well," A.J. Liebling says, "and how you do it is your own damn business."
Okay, A.J., fair enough. But how do you account for Jana Pruden's column in the Leader-Post? I knew Jana when I was at the L-P, and I've known her husband Evan since I was in high school. They are both smart, hip, funny, even sassy. They are both very nice people. So why does Jana's column in general, and her most recent one specifically, bug me so much?
Because it's not smart, it's not hip, it's not funny and it's not sassy. In fact, it reminds me of Peggy Hill's Musings columns from Mike Judge's King of the Hill, only those were actually funny.
When Pruden took over the general interest column from disgraced retiree Bob Hughes, it seemed as though the paper was finally starting to pay attention to the 20-55 age group that has rarely seen itself in the Regina daily. Finally would come a fresh voice from someone engaged with urban life, someone who valued art and culture at least as much as football, someone with something different to say. Instead, we got Bob Hughes in a skirt. Well, the most benign form of Bob Hughes in a skirt. I haven't read all of her columns, but I doubt that Pruden has attacked organized labour with the reckless meanspiritedness that Hughes embarrassed himself with. But Pruden definitely carries on Hughes's legacy of joyless solipsism, stories about cats and uninspired boasts about not understanding what's the big fuss about current trends. Pruden's latest col overdoses on puns as she states and restates her love of shoes. Why am I reading this?
I continue to read, I guess, because I know Jana Pruden to be capable of fine writing. You can see it in her court reporting. You know it if you've ever had a conversation with her. So why is she punching below her weight class with these asinine columns, wasting primo real estate with sad, Diagnosis Murder-style pap like "after some serious sole-searching" or "invariably, I flip-flop" when there's a readership starving for interesting commentary?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Don't Haunt This Country: A Canada Day Mixtape of sorts

About a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote about how the Rural Alberta Advantage was pretty much the greatest thing since snowmobiles with two skis, and little has changed in that time. Except that the RAA got signed to Saddle Creek, my fave Pitchfork writer gave 'em the thumbs up, and they embarked on a big-ass tour. That tour brings them to Vancouver on the fifth of July, which is a Sunday this year. The show's at the Media Club.

We here at ABWAWBA would like to apologize for neglecting the ol' country blog for the last few months, as our attention has been changing diapers and writing for sweet, sweet cashola. So, in the spirit of Canada Day (is there a Spirit of Canada Day?), here's some great Canadian music (or music about Canadians) just for you, the reader.

mp3: "Merde Il Pleut" by Pawnshop Diamond - sweet Vancouver country rock
mp3: "Burgess Lake" by the Lazy MKs - Regina instro-country, I guess if we call instro-rock post-rock, this is post-country. Wahoo!
mp3: "Belles" by Feuermusik - skronky Toronto fazz-junk
mp3: "Saskatchewan" by the Wooden Stars - Rheostatics cover by one of Canada's best groups
mp3: "Louis Riel" by John Millard - great, idiosyncratic folk, often with a cabaret twist
mp3: "Louis Riel" by Doug Sahm - not the same song as above, but at least Texan Sahm knew how to pronounce Regina.