Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Holding Pattern/Still the Same


IF I RECALL CORRECTLY: In the 1982 film Shoot the Moon, novelist Albert Finney goes through a divorce from Diane Keaton. Keaton keeps the family's rural home, with the couple's three four daughters (among them, future sitcom superstars Tina Yothers and Tracey Gold), where they are building a tennis court. The contractor building the tennis court is played by affable Peter Weller and it's not hard to figure out that there's chemistry between Annie Hall and Robocop.
Finney and Keaton's separation has its trials, but we generally see things work out and both characters reach a place in their lives where they've got some peace with the end of their marriage. This is evident in the final scene, where Peter Weller has finished the tennis court and the family throws a big party to celebrate and Albert Finney shows up and wishes them well and gets back in his car and drives off back to the city where his new life awaits.
He gets in his car all right, but then Bob Seger's "Still the Same" comes on and Albert Finney smashes up the tennis court in his wood-paneled station wagon. ROLL CREDITS.

That's kind of how I feel about this year. My station wagon doesn't have wood paneling, and I don't have a Bob Seger cassette for the tape deck, and you can't smash up a year with your car, but 2014 is a goddamn tennis court that needs to get smashed up. Even though I know, just like Albert Finney knew, that smashing it up won't get me back all I've lost. But goddamn if it won't make me feel good for a minute or two. 

I wrote a lot in 2013. Not so much in 2014. I guess I wrote a lot of record reviews, though. I don't know if that counts. I read a lot. That's for sure. And I made a point of reading outside my habits, for which I was always rewarded. My three favourite books (that I read in 2014, only one of them actually came out this year) shared some common themes: boats, sisters, survival. All three of them totally ripped my guts out.
Claire Cameron's The Bear, Madeleine Thien's Dogs at the Perimeter, and Eden Robinson's Monkey Beach. I openly wept while reading each one. I did not read better books than these this year. And I read a lot of books. I read Inherent Vice. Which, yes, is very good and I'm looking forward to seeing the movie some day, but SUBJECTIVELY (which is all I got here, folks) it's pretty much the same as the book I've been writing and that, by turns, bummed me out and encouraged my efforts. Except my book is set in present day Vancouver and the drugs are different and lots of other things are different, too, but Pynchon obviously liked a lot of the same novels and TV shows that I did and what are you going to do? 
Another book that's similar to the book I've been working on is Sam Wiebe's excellent debut Last of the Independents. It's a fairly straightforward update of the PI form set in today's Vancouver and does a lot of things well, especially with regards to its setting. Like with Inherent Vice, it was a little frustrating to see someone doing things I was trying to do, even more so because Wiebe did them so well. But it was also liberating, because hey, I don't have to convince anyone that Vancouver Noir is a real thing. I don't have to show a lot of world-building. I can stand on Wiebe's shoulders and do cannonballs into False Creek (which I don't advise).

So what I'm saying is, if you like Inherent Vice and you like Last of the Independents, I think you'll find something worthwhile in my book. If you don't like anything, you might like it. I don't know. I did the huge bulk of the work on it in the last part of 2013 and I've just been kind of tinkering with it all year. Rewriting isolated sections. I spent three months working on one scene. I'm going to go in and do a total rewrite early in 2015 and then, if I still like it, I'll let some people see it. I've got other things I'd like to write. I've got a notebook of stuff I want to do after I finish this thing. Comedy. Journalism. Essays. I wrote two really good pieces for Bunch Family this year. Got to work with a great editor. I'd like to do more of that. I've got a few ideas for TV shows I wouldn't mind making a few million off of. I could even write scripts for hire.

I want to do SFU's The Writer's Studio program. But I don't think 2015 is going to be the year for all that. I've got other responsibilities, I've got other obligations.  2015, as far as writing is concerned, is going to be another year where anything I can push out in the few moments I can find will count as successess and I'm not going to spend any energy feeling bad about that.
I'm going to read more poetry, clear out some of these detective novels sitting on my shelves, fill more notebooks full of idiot ramblings, take more pictures of hot dog boxes and try to visit the Storm Crow Tavern a few more times.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

I like Charley Pride

Just found Casey N. Cep's COUNTRY TIME column on Charley Pride and was reminded of what a joy it was to interview him several times during my years in Regina. Here's a preview I wrote for the Leader-Post in advance of his September 2004 concert in Regina. 

Still haven’t decided whether or not to go see country music legend Charley Pride? Here’s a last-minute sales pitch straight from the horse’s
    “It’s the best show on the road today,” Pride said last month from his Dallas, Tex. home. “No brags, just facts. It’s the best show on the road bar none. Lots of familiar tunes, some of the new ones, it’s a guaranteed deal.”
    Originally scheduled for last May, Pride’s Canadian tour had to be postponed after he was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma.
    “It’s where the blood for some reason collects down at the bottom of the brain and pushes the brain against the skull,” Pride explained matter-of-factly.
“They had to drill a couple of holes in each side, get some tubes in there, and get it out. So they did that May the 8th and I went back a couple of days ago and
did a full MRI  and they said I’m completely healed. They don’t know, and I don’t either, what caused it, but I’m okay, as of this moment.”
    Even before he went under the knife, Pride was certain of a full recovery. He and his booking agent didn’t hesitate to reschedule all the dates on his first Canadian tour in over a decade.
    “You got ten provinces up there, and I’m really behind on all of them,” Pride said, adding that commitments to a theatre with his name on it in Branson,  Missouri kept him from touring as much as he’d like during the 90s. 
    “You become a victim of your own doing,” he said. “Everyone suffered, only Canada suffered the worst. England wants us, Australia wants us, we just got back
from Norway, and now y’all in Canada wants us. I’m needed in all these places, yet I’m getting old.”
    One concession 66-year-old Pride has made--or rather is trying to make--to age is to trim his annual concert schedule from 117 shows to 45.
    “Saying we gonna cut down is easy doin’, but doin’ it ain’t that easy! Ireland would have us every other week,” Pride said.
    The Mississippi-born Country Music Hall of Famer has no plans to retire, although he wouldn’t mind having a few more free days to play golf. He points to the comedians like Bob Hope and George Burns, who kept performing into their 90s.
    “Those kinds of people, they don’t retire,” Pride said. “They just die. Why did Bob Hope keep going out? Well, he loved them laughs. I love hearing that
applause and feeling that warmth from from an audience.”
    Audiences seem to love seeing and hearing Charley Pride. A few short weeks after his surgery, he made an appearance at the venerable Grand Ole Opry, of which he’s been a member since 1993. He received two standing ovations.
    “They stood up before I even did anything and then they did it again after I was through,” he said. “As a matter of fact, some of my fans think I’m singing
better now than I ever did.”

Thursday, July 24, 2014

More Meltzer Remixes!

You all seemed to like yesterday's gag a bunch, so here's another Brad Meltzer-written comic remixed with text from Richard Meltzer. From Brad, 2004's Identity Crisis. From Richard, 1972's Gulcher: Post-Rock Cultural Pluralism in America (1649-1993). ENJOY!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Richard Meltzer imagines Batman

For some reason, noted thriller writer Brad Meltzer recently rewrote the very first Batman story, and then Chip Kidd remixed that into the original "Bob Kane" artwork.
Clearly, though, DC picked the wrong Meltzer.
Here, then, are two excerpts from my remix of Batman's first adventure, "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate" using text from Richard Meltzer's Holes: A Book Not Entirely About Golf.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

#8 Fraser: field notes

Hastings, Pender.
I see a guy who looks like Lyle, but it can't be Lyle. Lyle's dead.
Vanessa's dead.
Jeff's dead. Theresa, Danny, Gregory.
All of them. I see them all every day.
Keefer Street. All the discount factory outlet stores are shutting down.
New Condos.
Each new building a hundred yuppies and 75 dogs, all them smaller than the last.
Russian nesting lap dogs, they swallow each other.
And the bus is full.
This is a page and another book.
Talent travels, you don’t gotta look at TV to know.
Now it’s the Viaduct, then the train station, dive bars and gastropubs locked in the same death spiral as the city consumes itself.
Empty storefronts because who would
C I T Y G A T E?
Summer Wheel/Main Street
I wouldn’t. It’s Phibbs Exchange on a different level.
It’s just a bus stop.
But soon, people. The Condos are here. The Condos are coming.
This used to be a R[unintelligible] thing. This used to be a parking lot. This used to be an ice cream stand.
This used to be a semi-industrial wasteland. Now it’s someone’s front step. A million dollar view of the Shell station. Not even the most famous Shell station in the Lower Mainland.
This was, not my neighbourhood, but maybe stomping grounds. The neighbourhood next to my neighbourhood.
A waste of space that the mind deleted from memory as soon as you walked through it so that you always though the walk up to Main Street Proper was much shorter than it really is.
I remember when all this junk was brand new.
They burned down Main Street. Make way for the Walmart. Make way for Tim Hortons.

No Walk Offs, the parking lot says. We laugh at the city. We laugh at ourselves. We want to be liked. We want to be held in high regard.But we are all new here. We’re all watching one another and trying to fit in.
Teamsters Building is massive.
St. George - how long does it take?
I’d check on the time but that would only add to my anxiety.
Broadway and Fraser has a hipster butcher shop. It’s all over.
This guy out the window. Well-dressed and hip with gelled hair and leather jacket. Holding two dripping garbage bags. He’s just going to the alley. Allez, alley, Ali.
East 12th. I’m headed to E. 33rd.

Monday, June 23, 2014

This will be the summer.

This will be the summer I get into the Talking Heads or maybe Soundgarden. This will be the summer I learn how to play bass. This will be the summer I learn how to drive. This will be the summer I climb the fence of the swimming pool after midnight. This will be the summer I run away. This will be the summer I drink my first beer. This will be the summer I get my first job. This will be the summer I don’t have to worry about money. This will be the summer I kick Ian Conroy in the balls, when he’s least expecting it, from behind, while he’s playing Street Fighter II at the Gravity Zone. This will be the summer Gina Johnson finally sees what a poseur Ian Conroy is. This will be the summer Gina Johnson finally notices that I am authentic. This will be the summer everyone finds out Ian Conroy is only good at Street Fighter II because he subscribes to Nintendo Power magazine and that’s where he’s learned cheat codes and sneaky tricks.
This will be the summer I steal an issue of Nintendo Power magazine from Ian Conroy’s mailbox and learn some cheat codes of my own. This will be the summer I am king of Street Fighter II and everyone at the arcade will know my name. This will be the summer they’ll carry me up the stairs at the end of the night on their shoulders like a folk hero, out into the cool air and the university students coming in and out of the pub two doors down will wonder what the big deal is, and they’ll ask Graeme, who doesn’t like crowds, who’s not part of the cheering mob, what’s going on. This will be the summer Graeme recounts the legend of how I beat Street Fighter II on a single quarter, fending off challengers both live and automated. This will be the summer Graeme tells them how I beat  the last three opponents with just one hand on the console, because everyone in the place wanted to shake my hand after seeing how decisively I had beaten Ian Conroy when he challenged me, and how I had finally shown him mercy in the end, which he’d never done, not even to Gina Johnson.
This will be the summer the mob carries me on their shoulders down to the 7-Eleven and we can’t all fit through the double door so they have to put me down, but then we all go in and we fill the whole place up because there are too many of us and everybody helps themselves to chocolate bars and Slurpees because everything is free, just for tonight, because I beat Street Fighter II with just one quarter. This will be the summer I walk out into the streetlamp-lit 7-11 parking lot, with a half Coke/half peach Slurpee, and Gina Johnson is waiting for me out there. This will be the summer Gina Johnson says, “I was wrong about you all along. You are authentic.” This will be the summer Gina Johnson sips my Slurpee and asks, “How do get that perfect balance between Coke and peach?” This will be the summer Gina Johnson slips  me a mixtape she’d somehow already made for me and it will be full of Inspiral Carpets and Hoodoo Gurus and Happy Mondays. This will be the summer I ask Gina Johnson, “Do you like Talking Heads?” and she’ll say, “Yes, I love Talking Heads.”
This will be the summer I get busted shoplifting Talking Heads tapes at A&A Music. This will be the summer I get off with a warning. This will be the summer my dad says, “Warning? Hell. We’ll see about that.” This will be the summer I get grounded. This will be the summer I read a hundred books and go back to school in the fall forever changed. This will be the summer Mortal Kombat comes out, but I don’t know about it because I’m stuck at home, painting the fence by day and reading The Count of Monte Cristo at night. This will be the summer my mastery of Street Fighter II becomes irelevant. This will be the summer my dad surprises me with tickets to see Sting. This will be the summer I say, “what about being grounded?” and my dad says, “One night’s clemency.” This will be the summer I know what “clemency” means, from all the books. This will be the summer I call Gina Johnson and ask her if she wants to go to the Sting concert with me. This will be the summer she’ll says she’s already going, but maybe she’ll see me there. This will be the summer I go to the Sting concert with my mom and sit two rows behind Gina Johnson, who never turns around, who never takes her eyes off the stage except to french kiss Ian Conroy when Sting puts on a big, fuzzy purple hat and plays a Jimi Hendrix song. This will be the summer I stop liking Sting.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

You may throw your rock and hide your hand

I heard this at the Food Co-op the other night. I thought I'd heard all the Elvis worth hearing, but I guess I was wrong. I mean, the last time I got excited about an Elvis was "Old Shep", which is just about the saddest song I've ever heard. I mean PATHETIC, I mean PATHOS, I mean, OLD SHEP.

I knew "Old Shep" from Wilf Carter. I knew Wilf Carter from ads on TV during Happy Days after school when I was 8 or 9. "There's a Bluebird on Your Windowsill" was and is a favourite. Wilf Carter was sometimes known as Montana Slim, and Kerouac mentions a Montana Slim in On the Road, "a tall slim fellow who had a sneaky look", but I don't think it's the same guy. Mississippi Gene gets more play.

I wrote half a novel in my 20s about a Wilf Carter type of guy. It was a Nick Tosches Prairie Gothic kind of thing. I love singing cowboys.

As a teenager I worked one summer for a big country music festival, sanding and painting scaffolding, then setting it up, building the stage and then, finally tearing it all down. There was a trailer in the warehouse where I went to pick up my paycheques and the walls were covered in autographed 8x10s of some of the biggest names in country music. I hated country music then, but I was starting to fall in love with it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

YOU GOTTA READ: Wayne Arthurson's Fall From Grace

I reread Wayne Arthurson's excellent Edmonton crime novel Fall From Grace over the weekend. It had been on my mind a lot since the the RCMP confirmed that over 1,000 aboriginal woman had been murdered in Canada between 1980 and 2012.
Fall From Grace came out in 2011, which means that Grace Cardinal--the aboriginal woman whose death sets the book in motion--would have been included in that count (if she wasn't a fictional character, of course).
I've read a lot of crime novels, but I haven't read as many Canadian crime novels as I'd like (though I'm working on it, I'm working on it!). Even still, FFG is the most Canadian crime novel I've ever read. Arthurson's hero, Leo Desroches, is the white-looking son of a Cree mother and a French-Canadian father. He's not a cop, he's a newspaper reporter. He's also one of the most likable crime novel protagonists I've come across (though Deryn Collier's Bern Fortin is a serious contender in that department, too). He's smart and funny, and most importantly, he's chatty in the way that most real newspapers I've known are. He's an explainer, maybe even a mansplainer. And he's flawed, oh Lord, is he flawed. Some of the moves he pulls over the course of the novel, you just wanna grab him by the collar and shout "Smarten up, dum-dum!" until you're blue in the face. But what makes him Canadian in a way that I've never seen done in a crime novel before is his ability, his willingness, to be objective and humane--for a moment, anyway. In the book's climax, when Leo finally confronts the killer, he pauses to consider how
Killers like [REDACTED], or any of those others like Picton, Bernardo, or Olsen, weren't necessarily monsters. They weren't agents of the devil or the result of mutated DNA. They were human, just like the rest of us, with the same fears, the same ability to rationalize their actions, and sometimes, the same hopes to do the right thing.
But I still wanted to kill him. 
Likewise, Leo can see how the system, from social services and schools to the police, has systematically failed Aboriginal women in Edmonton and across Canada, but he also makes sure to point out how many good people are honestly working within the system to do the right thing.
In one way it takes some of the edge off things to present such a balanced, fair point of view, but in another the trope of the lone serial killer lets the rest of us off the hook a little too easily. Don't let the northern climate and likeable protagonist fool you, this is deep Noir.

Wayne Arthurson tackles the issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada head on, while still delivering an excellent and entertaining crime novel. It's a tricky balancing act, but he pulls it off.

Leo Desroches had another adventure in 2012's A Killing Winter, a book I gotta get off my butt and read already. Here's an excerpt at Criminal Element that really gets across how likeable Leo is and how well Arthurson writes Edmonton.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

keep it down, keep it down

By page 19, however, Ross Macdonald (still known then as Kenneth Millar) was 4-years-old and living in Kitchener, Ontario. He flipped to the back index. Vancouver wasn’t mentioned. Kurt Vonnegut, however, got quite a few mentions. Warren Zevon got even more. Aesop had hit another dead end.

Monday, March 24, 2014

if I am gone and with no trace

He’d probably even list genre romps by Paul Auster, Jules Feiffer, and Richard Brautigan as more important influences on his style of detection than Macdonald, but Macdonald was local. Macdonald had Vancouver roots. Macdonald was within reach.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

I was thinking Peter Lorre

Aesop was no closer to finding Hislop and he had sore feet. At least, he consoled himself, I feel like an authentic detective. Lew Welch had days like this, I’m sure. Lew Archer, I mean. Damn. I keep doing that. Which is a Beat poet and which is a private detective? Who walked out into the forest with a turkey shooter and never came back? Who cracked the Galton Case? Who is rumoured to have come up with advertising slogan/zen koan “RAID KILLS BUGS DEAD”? Who said, “I have a secret passion for mercy. But justice is what keeps happening to people.”? 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

don't you know, don't you know?

"I just wanted to get out of the office and beat someone up, you know? You ever wanna do this again, you know where to find me, right?"

here's to you, Human Torch

“Regardless,” he said out loud but to himself, then opened the covered jar of biscotti and removed something with nuts and a chocolate covering. Now the day hadn’t been a total waste.

I walked by the Stop 'n' Shop

“Hey,” the skinny barista behind the counter wearing a curled mustache and braces over a tie-dyed Miley Cyrus t-shirt pointed at a chalk-covered sandwich board near the door that read NO DERBY CHICKS. He shrugged. “I don’t make the rules.”

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Garbagemen don't care for the blues or rock n' roll

...the coffee shop favoured by frustrated screenwriters and male models once linked with Paris Hilton, the 24-hours Waves that isn’t 24-hours anymore, the coffee shop where Aesop once rescued a dog that didn’t actually need rescuing...

Monday, March 10, 2014

Friday, March 07, 2014

todos los acertijos son iguales

A hand covered his forehead, stopping him cold. “Don’t even.” The hand shoved his head back, then disappeared.

these are the facts and here is the news

“I don’t know. I figured he was leaving the country when he closed the office. But it’s been a while, right? He wouldn’t stay away forever. He likes the coffee here.” 

turned the whole thing sour

"Come closer. You lose any teeth?"

Thursday, March 06, 2014

sometimes you just wanna run

“No, everyone just calls him Cousin Phil. I don’t know why. He must be cousins with someone who matters, or used to matter. He’d been Cousin Phil for a long time before I met him.”

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

put the wrong lock on and disappear

It seemed like a bit of a put-on to Aesop, but then he paid rent on an office with the words PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR on the door.

Monday, March 03, 2014


Haters gonna hate and raters gonna rate. Last week the CBC Music posted a list of "The 50 Greatest Canadian albums of the 90s" and it's a mess. A Beautiful Mess, like the Thelonious Monster tape I bought in the West Edmonton Mall when I was 15*. Or something. Look, I like that there was a lot of room for personal favourites on the list and some kind of effort was made to include stuff that wasn't necessarily good or important or popular or whatever. 
I dunno, I Twittered the crap out of that list with my typical half-assed outrage, but that failed to mollify. Those tweets are collected here. As all good revolutionaries know, it is not enough to smash the system, you have to build a better submarine sandwich too. 
So here are 25 albums off the top of my head that are AT LEAST AS GOOD OR IMPORTANT OR GOOD-LOOKING as Chixdiggit's self-titled LP, number 50 on CBC's list
SOME NOTES ON METHODOLOGY: I didn't put a lot of thought into this. I avoided duplication with the CBC list not just of bands, but of artists, because that would just be boring. I didn't put any consideration at all into the order I'm listing albums. I'm not necessarily following MAPL guidelines. My picks are heavily biased toward guitar-based indie rock, because that's what I mainly listened to as a teenager.

*an obscure 90s reference that displays not only the breadth of my expertise, but the questionabilitude of my judgment.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Surrounded by the sounds of saxophones

Elevators, really, were just one more thing that failed to live up to Billy Wilder movies and lesser pop culture portrayals. This one didn’t even play music.

Out of the Black

“We did a silent meditation retreat on Hornby Island together a few years ago. I’ve never actually spoken to her.”
“That’s what I’m talking about.”