Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Turning The Page"

Noah Richler, via The Walrus, does a tidy job of measuring the sea change occurring among publishers, book stores and readers.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Midsummer Night's Dream

If you live in this neck of the woods you owe it to yourself to check out A Midsummer Night's Dream, as presented by the Borelians at Port Perry's Town Hall Theatre. I've attended twice, with children, and we all burst out in belly laughs in the course of the play.

The play has been tautly edited and the cast directed to deliver a punchy two hours' worth of entertainment. Watching this cast at work I was reminded of just what a revelation Kenneth Branagh's Henry V, and later Hamlet, had been. Making plain sense of Shakespeare's language and resurrecting it for a modern audience is a gift that keeps on giving, soul food that sticks to the ribs -- and the Borelians deliver the whole delicious dish with lusty panache. This is ribald entertainment first and foremost, formed by a penetrating intelligence that one can savor on the ride home.

A Midsummer Night's Dream will be performed for the next three nights, as well as a matinee on Saturday afternoon. Go. And don't be shy about whistling when Titania (my lovely wife) takes a bow. Links: Borelians Community Theatre.

The Flaming Lips Embryonic

If you like The Flaming Lips you already own Embryonic. And if you luuuuuuuuuv The Flaming Lips, then you already own the Deluxe Limited Edition, a reprise of an older Lips' stunt that requires the listener to coordinate and play multiple discs simultaneously on two different systems, to dig the full trippiness of the music. If you don't like the Lips, nothing on this new album is going to change your mind.

I, for one, like the Lips, and am baffled by the kvetchers in this group. Some are noting a return to "experimentation," which brings to mind John Gardner's quip that a work is only called "experimental" when it fails. I don't see that here -- or rather, "I don't hear that, see." Very early Lips is experimental, while Embryonic falls solidly into their later "The Punks Have Taken Over The Decrepit Planetarium" phase. If you must call Embryonic "experimental" I must protest that it's been tightly controlled to produce a desired effect: an aural consideration of how we collectively attempt to get a grip on how/why our species can be so incredibly evil.

Finally, if somehow you are new to The Flaming Lips, Embryonic is as good a place to start as Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. And if, like me, you are late and catching up to their crazy scene, you should check out this back issue of Stop Smiling for Jim DeRogatis' entertaining history of The Flaming Lips.

Post-Script: Oy, my aging brain. I couldn't recall why DeRogatis' name seemed so familiar, until I checked his website. Of course! DeRogatis wrote the definitive biography of Lester Bangs. Not only is it a very good book about Bangs, it is also an exceptional account of the 60s and 70s rock 'n' roll scene. Growing up in the 70s and 80s I was frequently bummed that the generation before mine got to have the most fun the first. Let It Blurt was the first book to leave me with the distinct impression that I was lucky I showed up later.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Night Before I Bought Hockey Gloves

We conclude our ringette practices with a fifteen minute scrimmage, usually with me — the hapless assistant coach — standing in net and blocking shots with my unprotected body. I don't have a goalie stick, so I'm often trying to spear the ring and fire it out of my crease. The other night a girl smacked my right hand with her stick, smartly hitting the top knuckle of my thumb. I howled.

She stopped and looked up at me. "It's your fault, you know."

I stared at her, blearily focusing through her helmet cage on a pair of blue eyes and an unmistakable smirk. She spun away and returned to the game. As I tried to massage life back into my wounded hand, I thought, I do believe I see a future paved with the broken hearts of idiot boys.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Groening = Disney?

Something I gleaned early from this experience is that Hollywood publicists are so used to journalists kowtowing to their every request that they no longer understand what journalism actually is. We’re talking about cartoon characters here, not Watergate -- John Ortved on the challenges of compiling an unauthorized history of The Simpsons: here, via bookforum.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Little Prog On The DVP

Somehow, the geniuses responsible for Toronto's Don Valley Parkway engineered it with an appreciation for night drivers and their car stereos. In the 80s my Bible School buddies would wax rhapsodic, recounting late night drives beneath the yellow bar-lights of the DVP while listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon. Fifteen years later when I finally had a car of my own, I had to agree: no matter what was in the tape-deck, a midnight cruise on the DVP made it, in every sense of the word, a transporting experience.

It seems particularly well suited for prog rock, or anything with a spacey album concept. I haven't yet taken the new Flaming Lips album for a DVP spin, but I can certainly vouch for Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. I listened to the new Sunset Rubdown on an afternoon drive up the DVP, and liked it well enough, but I might have been completely blown away if I'd only waited a few more hours. In contrast The Resistance by Muse (A) has sunk pleasantly into my DNA thanks to the hypnotic effect of passing beneath those lights in a state of mild sleep deprivation at 120 kph.

Even without the ride, The Resistance is a great concept album. Proggy, but not esoteric, Muse muses in a Queen-Meets-Depeche-Mode manner, wholly adopting the “We Take Our Fun Seriously” approach that worked so well for their heroes. After a summer of scratching my head over the critical lauds for Sunn O))) and Dirty Projectors, I couldn't help but be blown away by the common appeal to Muse's infectious tunesmithing.

Of course, my own resistance was somewhat vulnerable after my daughters discovered Styx. When the younger asked me to add Styx to her DSi, I had to stifle a snicker. Then I remembered how Styx became, in fact, “the greatest band ever” after I heard “Renegade.” I had just turned 13.

Styx retained much of their appeal through most of my teens, but by the time they released Kilroy Was Here (A) even I was wincing. At some point in my adulthood Styx's greatest hits must have presented itself at a price I couldn't refuse, because the girls found Come Sail Away (A) in my CD stacks.

As I pored through the tracks with my daughter, I realized my ears were no longer quite so Styx-averse. I thought the early material had ambition and drive, even as it often lacked focus. In fact the titular song seemed to embody both the best and the worst of Styx: “Come Sail Away” is passionate, lush and earnest nonsense.

The tracks my daughter wanted, however, were from the Paradise Theater segment. Paradise was an album I initially admired for its grandiose packaging. Portrayed on the front of the jacket is Chicago's Paradise Theater in its original glory; its later crumbling facade is on the rear. The songs were purportedly written with a unifying theme of glorious promise and inevitable decay. The vinyl itself was laser-etched with the Paradise marquee, which could only be seen when you held the record to the light. Throw in some nefarious backmasking and this was clearly the pop music equivalent of an anarchist's bomb.

Or not. My daughter requested “Rockin' the Paradise,” but even she is prone to mocking its flourishes (the over-heated piano glissando, the “whatcha doin', whatcha doin'?” chorus). Many of the songs seem forced into the thematic mold, and none moreso than the album's conclusion: “The Best Of Times” (“are when I'm alone with you”). On the other hand, I've yet to hear an ode to cocaine that doesn't induce a “There but for the Grace of God” shiver, which “Snowblind” certainly delivers. And “Too Much Time On My Hands” is just plain solid: the ticking clock motif, the feverish delusions of grandeur, the self-laceration and impotence. Throw in a meaty guitar solo and I have to admit: this song just plain rocks.

Not that I've got Paradise Theater, or any other Styx, cued up for my next late-night ride out to Toronto — that slot is reserved for Embryonic (A). But now I'm wondering: are there routes through other cities with a similarly narcotic effect on the driver? And is there any way a band could reserve this route for their harsher critics?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Generation A by Douglas Coupland: A Reaction, NOT A Review

Generation A mirrors 1991's Generation X.” It says so, right there on the back jacket. I read that and figured if Douglas Coupland was returning, in some measure, to the book that inflated him into what he is now, I was keen to read the by-product (A).

I don't usually mark up my books, but three pages into Generation A I felt compelled to take the lid off my Roller-Ball and write, neatly, in the margin: “How can a guy who is almost 50 years old write a book populated by characters so fastidiously stuck in their single 20s?”

I was off to a bad start, but for the first time in years I forced myself to keep going with a book I wasn't enjoying. Unfortunately my mood only got worse.

The proper thing to do is review the book that was written, and not the book I wish was written. But man-oh-man: do I ever wish this was a different book. I picked up Gen A wondering what had happened to those characters I related so strongly to in 1992. Did they finally plug in? Were any of them in a family way? Were they maybe not quite so nervous, smart and medicated? How had they (or characters similar to them) navigated the last 18 years? Now that they, in all likelihood, had the mortgages (etc.) that eluded them in '91, what did they think of their prospects? Let's call this fictional exercise "Coupland channels Updike" — wouldn't that be cool?

That's not the book I've got. And I'm realizing, as I finally put this novel to rest, that I'm at a point where I very much prefer Coupland's interviews and non-fiction to his fiction. He's a clever guy, frequently witty and prescient. But his fiction just ain't working for me anymore.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Humbert Humbert. Now More Than Ever

It has been years since I last re-read Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita in its entirety. It became a task, and a difficult one, after my first daughter was born. But sometimes there are good reasons to undertake difficult reading, and here D.G. Meyers presents the most compelling argument on behalf of Nabokov and Lolita I've encountered to date.

I came to it via OGIC, who links to DGM's "Meet Humbert Polanski".

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Monty Python's Flying Circus: What Happened To The Love?

McNally-Robinson in Winnipeg was selling the complete Monty Python's Flying Circus box o' DVDs for a criminally low price, so I went ahead and passed them the plastic (here's the Amazon listing, for a great deal more than I paid). Once we arrived home we unpacked the box and started watching.

I've had some second thoughts about the purchase. First of all, it's not as funny as I remembered. It's not like I'm stone-faced while watching: I'm usually smiling, and every once in a while something catches me off-guard and gets me giggling. But there are plenty of sketches which, frankly, are complete duds. I'd forgotten those, and for good reason.

Then there are all those sketches I hadn't forgotten, because for the past three decades I couldn't join a movie queue that didn't contain at least one person who felt obliged to mount a solo Spamalot performance. Words cannot describe my relief when The Kids In The Hall finally gained the higher hipster cred ("Lopez!").

Finally, there's the issue of the effect these jokers have on my daughters -- specifically, on their accents. Even a doting daddy-o gets weary when his girls insist on calling, "Faaw-thaah?" Of course, it could be so much worse: it could be, like, those two hosers with the toques, eh?

We Pause For Blogular Identification

Where, in the instructions, does it say parenting is actually gets busier as the children get older and increasingly self-directed? That seems to be the chapter I glossed over.

I believe it was Sloan Wilson who talked about "the tired 30s," but it's Whisky Prajer who's talking about the verge-of-exhaustion 40s. There are shifts in perspective that occur during this particular decade, and I have every good intention of exploring a few of them. Just one example: guess who agreed to being assistant coach of his daughter's ringette team? That's right: this guy.

I just need a few minutes of alone-time with my keyboard. Until that happens, things could remain a little "lite" around here.