Sunday, April 30, 2006

Planet Of The Apes Vs. Reality

There are certain television commercials that I can still vividly recall from my youth. One in particular hails from 1973. It was in colour (must have seen this at my grandparents', since our TV was B&W): a movie that looked freakish and violent. Freakish because the lighting was dark and everyone was made up like an ape, and violent because stuff was gettin' blowed up real good.

Our family didn't go to movies (yet), so the next day at recess I talked to my Ukranian friend about what I'd seen. "Sounds like Planet Of The Apes," he said. "There's been a couple of those movies. Last summer our family saw Beneath The Planet Of The Apes. Maybe that's the commercial you saw."

"I don't think so," I said. "This one was about a war of some kind. Maybe War On The Planet Of The Apes?"

He thought about it. Then his face lit up. "Oooo -- wait! How about: War Beneath The Planet of the Apes?!"

I was awe-struck. The two of us stared silently at the grass, contemplating the incredible, layered weirdness we had unwittingly concocted. WAR (cool!) BENEATH (whoah, boy!) THE PLANET (this is getting intense, man...) OF THE APES(!!!)

The ad I'd seen was, in fact, for Battle For The Planet Of The Apes. I never saw it. I never saw the short-lived television series, or the even shorter-lived animated series, either. In fact, I was 21 years old before I saw the Charlton Heston movie. I loved it. Two years later, I saw Beneath The Planet Of The Apes -- cheesier, freakier, Apier. I loved it, too.

So when I saw this Collector's Set for the complete Planet Of The Apes on sale at Costco, the urge to buy was predictably strong. It's all there. Thirty-three years after that thunderous TV commercial, it can now be mine, all mine. Mine!

But what might I lose were I to buy it? These flashing, fragmentary images in my head that erupted when I considered the terrible potential of this "War Beneath The Planet Of The Apes" -- why should I want to replace that with reality? Mightn't it be akin to Tim Burton's remake: a re-vision adroitly realized, but somehow inferior to the inspiration?

So far, my money remains in my pocket...

Gratuitous Hockey Post

I wonder how many sport columnists opened the NHL season with the tagline, "What a difference a year makes"? Where would columnists be without tired cliches, torn from the 50s jukebox? Still: what a difference a year makes!

I didn't expect to get hooked into the playoffs the way I did. I didn't expect to gloat over the possibility of this turning into an entirely Canadian series -- but apparently even advertisers are thrilled at the prospect. What's that about? North or south of the 49th, we're all hockey fans -- aren't we? Don't Philadelphia fans shop at Canadian Tire?! If you prick us, do we not bleed?

All this, and no Leafs to slow things down -- though the Habs, God love 'em, are doing what they can. Frankly, it will be a better series if Tampa Bay (oops! Carolina!) wins. Either way, I'm having fun watching hockey.

Friday, April 28, 2006


"Werner Herzog was the only person with whom I could have a one-to-one conversation on what I would call the sacramental aspect of walking. He and I share a belief that walking is not simply therapeutic for oneself but is a poetic activity that can cure the world of its ills. He sums up his position in a stern pronouncement: 'Walking is virtue, tourism deadly sin.'" -- Bruce Chatwin, What Am I Doing Here.

"Well," said my GP, summing up the physical I'd just endured, "there's nothing of great concern, really. But you're drinking more alcohol than you should. And you really ought to integrate some cardio work into your routine."

Cardio Work -- oog. In the city this was never a problem: I biked and walked just about everywhere. Out here in the sticks, however...

I'm having trouble getting back into biking. I love the motion, but I can't quite persuade myself to bike for the sake of "cardio". I like to go somewhere when I bike. Walking, on the other hand...

Like any religious claim, I can almost buy into this "sacramental aspect" business. I'd dearly love to think my little strolls contribute in some tiny way to keeping Born-Again Christians from nuking Muslims, and Muslims from nuking Jews, or Hindus -- and vice versa. But the doubts, the doubts...

Reasonable People don't call them "doubts"; they call it The News. Fine. I'm still compelled to walk, and I'm still drawn toward things sacramental. Besides, when Werner Herzog says something, it's usually worth careful consideration.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

"Say, why does the Devil have all the good tunes?!"

AC links to Blender's 50 Worst Things to Happen to Music. Predictably enough, I too consider Number Seven a personal favourite:


Once the Big Guy gets under an artist's skin, the work tends to suffer. AL GREEN went from making the sexiest music known to man to making gospel albums known to nobody. MASE quit hip-hop for the ministry, and when he returned, his skills didn't come with him. The less said about BOB DYLAN's born-again albums the better, but the idea of Jehovah's Witness PRINCE proselytizing door-to-door in purple pumps still brings a smile. Esther, née MADONNA, caused quite the mishegas by hopping aboard Kabbalah's Judaism-meets-New-Age-hooey bandwagon. And CAT STEVENS loved Islam so much, he named himself after it when he converted and then quit the music biz in 1979.

Silly rock stars -- you're supposed to be the ones being slavishly worshipped!

Amen to that (heh heh). Amen also to the record-setting FOUR SLOTS devoted to Van Halen. And number one is a curiosity ... I only bought one issue of Blender -- the first, to get some idea of where it was headed. The reviews were pleasantly sassy, but the overall package was one big "meh: just more Maxim" -- i.e., kidstuff. So what, exactly, is Number One flagging?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Strong Coffee

Lots of us wordy-types are linking to this look at the publishing industry (via Boing Boing), so I might as well, too. Nothing new here, really. I was hooked on the 2Blowhards after Arts & Letters Daily linked to Michael's whizz-bang analysis of writerly expectations vs. the publisher's (in)ability to deliver.

I doubt there are any writers who didn't have visions of literary grandeur when they took their first typing lesson. This sort of wake-up call is better received earlier, rather than later. And if you happen to be a wordy-type who finds this all terribly discouraging, I recommend you get a copy of Carolyn See's Making A Literary Life: Advice For Writers and Other Dreamers. She is candid about the work you can expect to do, and has some very basic and do-able strategies for the writer who wants to keep food in the fridge. Cory Doctorow and Michael Blowhard might propose other strategies -- to my mind, they are all worth a writer's consideration. Good luck to us all, I say.

Monday, April 24, 2006

I was trying for "Vince", but those cartoons kept distracting me...

What Pulp Fiction Character Are You?

Your inner child screams for cartoons and sugary cereals, but your adult tastes love the buzz of quality mind altering substances. Sooner or later, you're going to have to grow up, at least a bit.

Take the What Pulp Fiction Character Are You? quiz.

Via Searchie LaFemme, who knows how to make Tarantino scream like a little girl.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Million Lesser Echoes: Howl 50 Years Later

This morning I met a friend at the local Caffe, and fueled our conversation with several fat-headed comments. Here's the most bloated of the bunch: "The last great moment on Saturday Night Live was the night Kurt Cobain and Co. destroyed their kit." (I ought to have added, "But Will Ferrell experiencing motion sickness while singing It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year atop a spinning platform runs a close second!")

My friend just introduced his 13-year-old daughter to Nirvana (still a favourite at the sock-hops!), so we teased apart some of Cobain's particularly personal significance. Early in his ascent, Cobain acknowledged the impact that spectacular rock albums had had on him -- Aerosmith Rocks, Back In Black, Led Zeppelin II were all named -- hard rocking albums with absolutely no weak links in their movement from song to song to finale. These albums meant the world to him, but gradually his ardour for them cooled, basically because they all boiled down to the same thing: misogynystic "Cock Rock". He couldn't relate to it, so he wrote music he could relate to.

I don't think you could possibly overstate the impact Nevermind had on my g-g-generation. Consider also the ridiculous dress Cobain wore to the Headbanger's Ball (frilly and frou-frou, not at all the leering drag of the New York Dolls and their snarling progeny), the astonishing power of Unplugged In New York and the grimly predictable news of Cobain's suicide, and I hope you can understand why Gen X hasn't produced any memorable rock & roll since then. Cobain correctly identified the limits that rock had reached -- the wall it had (ahem) erected against itself. Then he forged his hammer and knocked it down with one well-placed shot. (Kids, "emo rock" is this generation's wall -- have at it!)

So what does this have to do with Allen Ginsberg and Howl? Well, it's been 50 years since Howl was first published, and we've yet to see a poetic opening that is as memorable as "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked..."

There's a blessing and a curse here. It's pretty fine to be present in that moment when lightning strikes and changes the cultural landscape. It's not so fine to watch successive generations try to re-bottle the same magic. Nabokov famously sneered that Eliot's free-verse compositions were akin to "playing tennis without a net", but the pretenders attempting to succeed Eliot quickly put paid to that superficial analysis. There was something of undeniable substance here. Similarly with Ginsberg -- only it's now been 50 years and counting.

Poetry and culture -- it is what it is. Misogyny doesn't seem to be going anywhere, and it would be mighty nice to see someone take a hammer to hip-hop before my daughters develop an ear for it. As for poetry on the page, I'm still hopeful. Any day now. Any day...

Re: Howl: here is Greil Marcus's analysis for the NYTBR - provocative, if not particularly insightful. If you want better, you'll have to go here for Stephen Burt's erudite and tidy analysis of Ginsberg's precise cultural moment. And did you ever want to host an icon of the Counter-Culture in your own home? Just be sure to stock up on Pine-Sol and keep the mop handy!


Friday, April 21, 2006

Animal Husbandry - Peter Jackson's King Kong

(Why, yes: my wife is away on a business trip. Why do you ask?)

I enjoyed it, but I can see why it didn't break any box-office records (did it manage to break even?). First of all, it's a fun little movie that just happens to be over three hours long. Is there anything that manages to retain its "fun" for more than two hours? I watched the movie in 45 minute clips, which was just about right.

Secondly -- man, does Peter Jackson ever take his material seriously! Just in case we're not on the same page as he is, he gets a big burly black man to explain Conrad's The Heart of Darkness to a pencil-necked white kid, creating for us White-Types-With-The-Liberal-Guilt the single most tension-filled moment in the entire movie. Whew! Thank you, Peter!

Thirdly -- Jackson obviously possesses some voo-doo that excites his actors. Everyone looks like they're having a heap of fun, injecting panache into the hammiest dialogue to hit the screen since Howard The Duck. Especially Naomi Watts, who has the toughest sell. How is it a goofy blonde can fall so hard for an ape? Her answer: don't we all know at least one woman who couldn't let go of a musclebound hothead, just because he knew how to show a girl a good time? And say: wasn't that girl an actress? Consider me sold! That is, until hour number two gradually stretches into ... hour ... number ... Zzzzzz .....

Fourth -- Who wants special effects? I do, I do!! KONG delivers. Overdelivers, actually. There were times when my face was inches away from my rinky-dink TV screen, my eyes squinting to make out some telling detail that would provide clues to a scene's significance. I sure would have appreciated the scale of a proper Silver Screen during those moments. But there were other scenes (I'm thinking particularly of the dinosaur stampede) when the action was so frenetic and layered, I very much doubt I could have followed its general flow in a theatre. When it comes to digital SFX, clearly the industry is still working out the bugs.

Fifth -- the volume. Had I seen this movie in the theatre, I would have left with my ears bleeding. Who needs the grief?

And finally: throw all the above into a movie that is over three hours long, and you're better off watching it at home.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A History of Violence

In a television interview sometime between Dead Ringers and Naked Lunch, film-maker David Cronenberg asked his interviewer (and audience) why beauty was inevitably a "surface" characteristic. You see the skin on a person's face, and if it meets certain criteria, you judge it to be beautiful. But what happens when the skin is removed? Is what you see, in fact, ugly?

Since then we've had Body Worlds, and an increasing avalanche of movies that start by removing the skin from beautiful people -- while they're still breathing -- and Cronenberg's "deep thoughts" don't have quite the same cache they did 15 years ago. Still, he does what he does, and critics seem to appreciate him for it.

My own critical thumb has a 50/50 average when it comes to Cronenberg -- it's a love/hate relationship I have with DC, which must make me his ideal viewer. So why is it that A History of Violence left me ... unmoved? It was too corny to completely pull me in, but whenever I thought about calling it a night something incredibly entertaining would happen, keeping me glued to the screen.

It's comic book -- sorry: graphic novel -- material, and with the sole exception of his SFX, Cronenberg sticks to a two-dimensional approach. Where Sam Raimi's Peter Parker has an emotionally compelling relationship with his Aunt May and the girl next door, Cronenberg's Tom Stall relates to his cheerleader wife and their two peppy kids on a singular aw-gee-whiz note that never varies. Until things get violent. That's when we get the movie's second note, which is a shade more entertaining.

I think Cronenberg gets the surface wrong in this movie. Cronenberg's portrait of Stall's small-town life is so corn-pone idyllic, he makes Earl Hamner look like Peter Bogdanovich. Of course the whole point of the exercise is THINGS ARE NOT AS THEY SEEM, but when things don't even look like they're trying to seem like something real, the argument lacks vitality. The good guys don't look like anyone I recognize, and neither do the bad guys -- the artifice never achieves depth, until a bad guy gets his face blown off ("Why, that flap of skin looks like something I saw on CSI!"). So my thumb teeters downward. I only wish it had done so with greater passion.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Town Hall Detail

One more shot, this time of the Bell & Hose Tower. I love the shingle work (I'm guessing it's cedar).

The Old Town Hall

The funny (and not always welcome) thing about making a commitment is the unexpected detours said commitment will steer you down. There is a segment of our town's youth that is prone to making, shall we say, rowdy errors in judgment. After seven years residency involving a marked effort to be friendly to absolutely everyone, I was tapped on the shoulder and asked if I'd consider being on the board of the local "Youth Centre". I said, "Sure," figuring it was time I was part of the solution.

It's too early to say what sort of "solution" has been implemented (ask me in September for an arson update - *sigh*). In any event, my involvement has been directed away from elder/youth encounters toward ... well, a second board. I now find myself tangentially committed to the fate of our town's Old Town Hall.

There she is, in all her exterior glory. Notice how she's been lovingly garlanded by power-lines -- there's a power station parked right next to her, slated for dismantling sometime in the next year. Notice also the large white door in the centre: the Old Town Hall served many functions, including (a very tiny) library and public records, jail, and fire hall (the fire hoses were hung to dry in the bell tower). The new fire hall was built on the other side -- to your left.

The building was erected in the tent-like fashion of the times: the walls and roof were put up, and the interior was worked out gradually as the town's populace hashed out the building's purpose. Consequently, the interior has gone through many, many structural changes over the years. The ground floor is a soul-vexing schmozzle: it's a mess and an eyesore, and it can't retain heat worth a damn. However, underneath layers of carpet and tile is as sturdy a hardwood floor as you are likely to find anywhere. Similarly, if the crappy drywall reconfigurations were removed, you would discover hardwood panelling, much of which is still salvageable.

The Hall's second floor is its centrepiece: this is the town's old theatre, which also served as the Hall proper for most of the 20th Century. Or was it the other way around? After snooping around, it was very difficult for me to discern which had been its chief purpose: grafitti in the wings dated back to 1918, and provided a patchwork timeline of musicals, stag shows (quite a few of those!) and other theatrical productions. When I asked our town councilman what sort of events he'd attended here, he said, "Oh, lots of dances in the 70s. Some movies, too."

When I first climbed the stairs and saw the Hall, I was quite moved. Despite the sorry spectacle of the first floor and the obvious state of disrepair of the second floor, the Hall seemed vibrant with the passionate tides of history. The people who built it took clear pride in their work: there are many aesthetic touches unlike anything that has gone into the new town hall (a cool, multifunctional box). This building provided the centre for the town, and did a solid of job of it.

This is one corner of the balcony. I'm not sure what the red wood is, but the dark strip-panelling along the walls is oak and the blonde is either maple or beech -- both of which populate the local forests.

I find myself romantically drawn to this building. It's a terrible romance, to be sure: among the decisions made in this building was one to send a full battallion of local men to the trenches of The Great War. And if I savour some of this building's aesthetics, there are others that leave me cold. The Mennonite architecture of my home town was informed by what some might call shrewd fiscal judgment, and what others would call mean-spirited thrift. Yes, Mennonites can be a cheap lot -- but so can the Scots! And this building, along with many other aspects of this town, is in a state of decline precisely because of that very charming trait.

I don't see much of a future for this building. The first contemporary introduction to it will have to be an elevator. This one change will wreak all manner of structural carnage. It's not an impossible task, but it will require some will on the part of the local historical society, indulgence on the part of the town's commercial sector, and some cheerful willingness for both parties to work together. It is the latter that is in precious supply, but who knows? If the town can remain arson-free for the summer, a little goodwill just might take root and bloom.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Prophetic Wisdom of Agent 86, Maxwell Smart

On Nuclear Proliferation:

99: Oh, Max what a terrible weapon of destruction!
MAX: Yes. You know, China, Russia, and France should outlaw all nuclear weapons. We should insist upon it.
99: What if they don't, Max?
MAX: Then we may have to blast them. That's the only way to keep peace in the world.

On The Value of Good Intelligence and Enforcing Public Accountability:

MAX: But I'm telling you, Chief, this is no ordinary kidnap attempt! I happen to have recognized one of those hoods as a KAOS man.
CHIEF: What's the man's name?
MAX: I can't remember.
CHIEF: What was the girl's name?
MAX: I didn't get it.
CHIEF: What about the license number of the girl's car?
MAX: I didn't see.
CHIEF: How about the license of the other car?
MAX: I didn't notice.
CHIEF: Max, what would you do if you were me and an agent gave you answers like "I can't remember," "I didn't notice," and "I didn't see it"?!
MAX: I don't know.

On Keeping a Clear Moral Perspective:

99: Oh, Max, how terrible!
MAX: He deserved it, 99. He was a KAOS killer.
99: Sometimes I wonder if we're any better, Max.
MAX: What are you talking about, 99? We have to shoot and kill and destroy. We represent everything that's wholesome and good in the world!


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Hall of Shame Finale: DEVO's Whip It!

Yep. I liked that song back in the day, 'cos, like, I thought DEVO was totally awesome! I read DEVO's press. I was aware they made considerable reference to S&M practises -- were, in fact, quite fixated with S&M practises. They parroted the punk party-line on this issue: "Modernity has so alienated us from each other, we have to resort to..." blah-de-blah-blah. Malcolm McLaren recites the self-same hooey in The Filth & The Fury, only this time Julian Temple frames it in such a way that the joke is on McLaren.

These days I prefer Temple's sly dig at McLaren to DEVO's sly digs at its smarty-pants audience. So please don't play "Whip It!" in my presence. And don't EVER re-run that heinous "Swiffer" ad!

Candidate #4 for my Musical Hall of Shame


I Love Cartoons

Drawn! links to I Love Cartoons!, a trove of loving evocations and thoughtful reconsiderations of familiar cartoon characters. I think Ale Garza's The FLintstones (above) is altogether charming. Mitch O'Connell has a field-day with 70s-era Hanna-Barberra characters, including Hong-Kong Phooey. Bob Almond clearly wants to give Marvin the Martian a fighting chance. And I have to admit I found these takes on Judy Jetson and Betty Boop rather unsettling. There's lots more for those of us born nostalgic, so hurry over and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Watching Matt Dillon

I watched Crash with my mother last week -- my second time, her first. I have to say that even though it fits neatly into this year's "Eat Your Spinach" theme at the Academy Awards, I still find it a very moving film. Sure, I was manipulated, but for the most part the manipulations followed an intuitive sense that helped keep my defenses down.

I enjoy watching Matt Dillon. In fact, I generally enjoy watching him in just about anything -- My Bodyguard, The Flamingo Kid, Drugstore Cowboy, Wild Things, There's Something About Mary ... all good. His strong-suit character is usually someone with just enough charm and smarts to get into a heapload of grief. But he also directed a terrific little flick that "no-one saw" (his words): City of Ghosts. This time James Caan is cast in the usual Dillon role, as Dillon's slimy father; Dillon walks a wobbly line as the apple that hasn't fallen too far from the tree, but has the instinct to keep rolling. Good casting, good pacing, an excellent script (Barry Gifford, abandoning the weird for taut character-driven suspense) -- all in all, a good Saturday night movie.

Monday, April 10, 2006

T Bone Burnett, On Record

Well, boy howdy: looks like J. Henry Burnett is in a releasing mood. The True False Identity is due in mid-May. Twenty Twenty: The Essential T Bone Burnett is due a week later. Colour me happy.

A Cheeseburger Is Paradise

DP Blowhard's musings over the current incarnation of the "Forties" Diner have got me musing over the state of the cheeseburger. I'm not "a classic burger 'n' fries guy", nor am I particularly fond of the sort of nostalgia-based dining that inspires chains like Ruby's and Johnny Rocket's. It's possible the Diner epitomizes the very best America has to offer from its culinary past, but I see no reason to make this a point of pride.

If you want to get me in a nostalgic mood, pour me a bowl of borscht, or schabelzup. The latter is a broth-based green bean soup, with spring potatoes and little bits of ham or (preferably) farmer sausage added. Drop in an egg and boil for a few seconds, and you will hear me begin to purr. From time to time I enjoy indulging in a plate of werenicke with fried onions, all drenched with a hefty ladel of schmagas (perogies and sour cream is a none-too-distant cousin). If Mennonites had beat Ray Kroc at his own game, our fast-food emporiums would resemble barns of pine, and house picnic tables with plastic tablecloths. And our nation's children would be even more obese than they already are.

Having said all that, I will admit I do from time to time enjoy a good cheeseburger. I'd rather cook the burger myself, over coals in my vented Weber drum. Failing that, there is one Toronto establishment that makes an incomparable burger: The Pilot Tavern. The bonus: it comes with a plate of incredible fries. I prefer my Pilot Burger with blue cheese and roasted red peppers; sometimes I'll ask for sauteed mushrooms, too. A little malt vinegar for the fries, and two pints of Steamwhistle Pilsner to wash it all down, and I'm in heaven (I'm also ready for an afternoon nap, but nevermind -- naps are mandatory in heaven).

Friday, April 07, 2006

"I'm right. You're wrong. Go to Hell!"

In my Mennonite high school, the extra-curricular activities fell into two camps: sports and music. And if my co-ordination was problematic, my tone and pitch were (for the most part) good. Throw in a voice that dropped into the bass register when I was a sprat of 12, and I was the perfect candidate for a Barbershop Quartet. Or so the school's music director thought.

He tapped me and three other guys on the shoulder, gave us some music to consider, then opened the music room for us. We looked at some of the standards -- K-K-K-Katy and I'd Like A Girl (Just Like The Girl That Married Dear Old Dad) -- and quickly decided we didn't have the chops to be a proper Barbershop Quartet. Barbershop music is typically sung a capella, a feat we could pull off with precious few songs. We enjoyed our quartet efforts, though, so we decided to take a step down in the ladder of skillsets and become A Gospel Quartet.

Our first performance was at a seasonal school function. The gym was filled with parents and school supporters, and we were slated for mid-program. We dressed in white shirts, armbands and styrofoam cheesecutter hats. I'm not sure who came up with the idea, but at the last minute we decided to make a brilliant entry: our pianist would play the opening four bars of our song (a jaunty little ditty) and the four of us would sprint from the back of the gym to the foot of the stage, taking the mic and impressing one and all with our spirited sense of play.

The pianist began with the bap-ba bap-ba bap-baaa, bap-ba bap-ba bap-baaa, and we hoofed it to the stage. The stage lights, the audience, the glory of youth! Unfortunately, as we took our mics, it dawned on us that we'd gone and winded ourselves, making our first few bars a wheezy and memorable affair indeed.

Ah, it was all in fun -- including, I thought at the time, our choice of songs: corn-fed gospel faves, many of them penned for and sung by The Imperials. In hindsight, there's very little to recommend these tunes, nevermind the tract-like ethos behind them. "Gospel" = "good news", and if you come from my small town this requires you to acknowledge the billboard at the outskirts reading, "HELL IS REAL!" (in our cynical years, we silently completed the sentiment with, "Keep to the speed limit and you should arrive there in about 10 minutes"). So, yes: you've got Hell, you've got Heaven. Throw in a no-brainer choice, and Untold Glory is all yours. If that doesn't give you something to sing about, what will?

The first verse to one such song went as follows:

Well old Buddha was a man
And I'm sure that he meant well
But I pray for his disciples
Lest they wind up in Hell.
And I'm sure that old Mohammed
Thought he knew the way
But it won't be Hare Krishna
We stand before on that judgement day

The shortest route to feeling good about your religious beliefs, it seems, is denigrating the religious beliefs of others. At the time I simply didn't have the eyes to see the offense, nevermind the absurdity of this approach. We were merely glorying in our certitude -- something I considered a birthright.

I'm happy to report that a great many people have been merciful to me since then. So it is with profound gratitude to them all that I present Song #4 in my Hall of Shame: Oh Buddha by The Imperials.

No it won't be old Buddha
That's sitting on the throne
And it won't be old Mohammed
That's calling us home.
And it won't be Hare Krishna
That plays that trumpet tune
And we're going to see the Son
Not Reverend Moon.

Candidate #3 for my Musical Hall of Shame; Hall of Shame Song #5.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Makes sense, I suppose...

...considering my progenitors hailed from Friesland.

You Belong in Amsterdam

A little old fashioned, a little modern - you're the best of both worlds. And so is Amsterdam.

Whether you want to be a squatter graffiti artist or a great novelist, Amsterdam has all that you want in Europe (in one small city).

Via the Aging Punk Wannabe, who belongs in Dublin.

Hall of Shame Album #3: Kenny Rogers' Greatest Hits

Osbourne Village, Winnipeg -- Winter, 1980. I can't remember how I managed to get a ride to this place, but a party is definitely in progress. It's an old, three-storey house in one of Winnipeg's former bastions of hippiedom. The host gave us a tour of the place, including the basement where the former tenants painted weird symbols on the wall for their ... well, who knows what they did in that pit, but the mind certainly conjures up some pretty wild scenarios.

People continue to pack into the place as the night wears on. Twenty boxes of pizza arrive at the door. I grab a single slice before the locusts descend and strip the cardboard. Did someone pay the delivery guy? Or was that him, following the dark-haired girl up to the third floor?

I'm 14 years old, trying to pass myself off as 18. There isn't a girl in the house who's buying it. I finally wind up in a tiny room on the second floor. The overhead light is on; in contrast to all the other rooms in the house, this one is almost blindingly lit. There is barely enough space to accomodate a solitary twin bed, a milk crate, and a cheap hi-fi stereo. Some guy is sitting on the bed, listening to music. Correction: he's listening to Kenny Rogers.

"Cool," I say. "Do you have The Gambler?" (Great cross-over song, that. They play it at all the roller-rinks.)

"For sure," he says. He lifts the stylus and places it at the requested track. "On a slow train to nowhere / I met up with a gambler..." I look around. There's no place for me to sit, except beside him on that ridiculous bed. He could care less -- he's digging the music -- so I take my place. We sit there, side by side, staring at our socks and listening to Kenny Rogers. "This one's pretty good, too," says my new friend. He turns over the record, and places the stylus on the final song, Coward of the County.

And there you have it: two straight guys, sitting in a tiny bedroom and listening to Kenny Rogers while a party rages around them. Could there be a more pathetic scenario? I sure did like that last song, though. It told a story.

So did most of the others, come to think of it. I figured that was a good trait in a song, so a day or two later I went to K-Mart and spent four dollars on my very own copy of Kenny Rogers' Greatest Hits.

To my 14-year-old ears, Kenny sounded like a singing version of Louis L'Amour -- only a little gushier, thanks to those ballads of his. I didn't much like the ballads. I mostly skipped over them and went straight to the story songs, especially Coward of the County -- 'cos, you know, I was a Mennonite (right?) and that song was The Shit.

26 years later, I'm inclined to amend my original assessment by using lower case letters. What a tedious, hateful little song! My exhausted love for it was sped-along by the argument I was to hear many, many times: "Oh, so you're Mennonite? Well, what would you do if someone came into your house and tried to rape your wife?" If you're going to attack Mennonite ideology, this particular strategy feels like the natural first move. You think we aren't ready for it? Go ahead and blast away! For your quick and inerrant wit, there is a very special reward: once you get the answer, you will be persuaded of many things, including the hard-scrabble wisdom of avoiding not just this particular tack, but the whole "dialogue" to begin with.

Or, if you're hanging out with Yours Truly, you could follow the surer strategy: just play this fucking song. You'll get the violent response you were looking for -- and then some!

The #2 Candidate for my Musical Hall of Shame; Hall of Shame Song #4.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Hall of Shame Album #2: Pyromania by Def Leppard

"A guilty pleasure is something I pretend to like ironically, but in truth is something I really just like" -- Chuck Klosterman, Fargo Rock City

This sentiment is precisely the charming sort of appraisal that Klosterman levels at every Hair Metal Band you could name. Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Poison, Cinderella and a host of (to me) obscure bands are given Klosteman's jolly consideration. His defense of a musical genre I've always considered lame is so cheerful and winning, I just about purchased Crüe's loving tribute to itself, Red, White & Crüe.

Just about, but not quite. I asked the guy at the counter to spin a few tracks for me, just to see if Klosterman had actually changed the chemical properties of my own personal acid test. I grinned. I couldn't stop grinning. Music guy looked at me, bobbed his head and asked, "So you like this stuff?"

I giggled. "No! And I never did!"

As a gesture of homage to Klosterman -- a tip of my felt top hat, if you will -- I did finally purchase Appetite For Destruction. I don't like it, either. Slash cut his own distinctive guitar sound, and there's no denying it rocks, but for the life of me I still can't figure out why these jokers were so much bigger than Jane's Addiction. Musically and thematically, Nothing's Shocking has it all over Appetite -- in fact NS has it all over 95% of Nirvana's ouevre, too. And yet if Axl Rose got the therapy (or the smack to the side of the head) he needed to reunite with his former bandmates, my generation would jump in line. JA reforms, and they're forced to quit the tour after a handful of shows because the fans are home, polishing their piercings.

I wouldn't pay money to see either band -- I dislike the nostalgia circuit, and that's what they both amount to right now. But I've veered away from my topic (an indulgence I took, stylistically inspired by Klosterman). I was talking about Hair Metal, and how I never liked the stuff -- ever. I remained smugly secure about my near-inerrant taste in music until just the other week, when I flipped through my record collection in search of old T Bone Burnett. Mid-way through my album-flipping I suddenly stopped at a garish reminder that my rock habit has indeed included music I could no longer defend or listen to: Pyromania, by Def Leppard. Does Def Lep qualify as "Hair Metal"? Some might argue no, DL rightfully belongs to the British New Wave of Metal that inspired acts like Metallica and Megadeth. I don't care. Pyromania sounds to me like all the other polished-to-perfection acts that crowded the scene at the time. And I loved it -- at the time. I can remember moving furniture to the walls and jumping around with my friends in my parents' living room, where the good stereo was located. Rock and Roll!!!

No longer. As of April 4, 2006, if I hear the opening words, "Unter glieben glauben globen!" coming from your car stereo, it had better be The Misfits that you're playing. And even then, I expect you to acknowledge their own "best by" date has come and gone -- along with Def Leppard's.

The #1 Candidate for My Musical Hall of Shame
; Hall of Shame Song #3.