Wednesday, 17 January 2018

HUMAN WRECKAGE

Time Was…

A disc jockey on Alberta’s public radio station last week introduced a live track by Calgary’s Co-Dependents as a cover of “an old Rolling Stones song.” Granted, the CKUA morning host wasn’t the usual grizzled old veteran who I suspect sprinkles Purple Windowpane on his granola sometimes, but still, the description tripped my expectation to a Jagger-Richards composition from the mid-sixties. The golden oldie given a reverent run-through spun out as ‘Faraway Eyes,’ released in 1978. Because every notion in my head has been dumbed down to social media shorthand I thought, “WTF!?”

Gee, I guess four decades gone, baby, gone qualifies a tune as “old” even though I consider ‘Faraway Eyes’ a relatively recent addition to the Stones catalogue as their studio output has since dipped, dived. I was 18 then, so much wiser than I am now because I knew everything and if I didn’t know what I was talking about, I at least formulated a passionate, uninformed opinion.

Honest to God, it was just last week in Montreal, though I haven’t even lived there for 28 years, that I bought the Some Girls album at Deux Mille Plus on Mansfield the day it came out. A day or two later a dream came true, I scooped the extended, eight-minute version of ‘Miss You’ backed with ‘Faraway Eyes’ on pink vinyl, an expensive French import with a spectacular sleeve featuring a rose-hued duotone portrait of the Stones, at Rock en Stock on Crescent.

This recent CKUA collision of the passage of time and the elasticity of memory prompted me to buy a new telephone address book. Other people freeze in a crisis. My old book was indispensable. It has travelled the continent and across oceans. It began life with block printing done with a soft lead pencil, complete with left-handed smudges. Various colours of updating ink were added; bits of sticky correction tape. Antiquated business cards crammed inside gummy plastic slots. Directional detour arrows drawn, the alphabetic sequence gently nudged out of order at the M tab due to space limitations.

I spent Monday flipping through the back pages of my life in Alberta and my career in advertising. Why did I have dealings with the general manager of the Medicine Hat Blue Jays? Must’ve been program ads and outfield wall signage; regrettably I never did get down that way to watch a baseball game under the prairie sun. Does Palmer-Jarvis even exist anymore? How did I ever cross paths with Steve from McCann Erickson’s Seattle office? Numbers too for pre-press film houses and a photography developing lab; how quaint.

My friend Tim has been a bit of a gypsy. My contact information for him stretches from Montreal, to Calgary, to Toronto and back to Calgary. I even have his mother’s phone number because she was so kind to me when I was growing up and much later on when I would visit Montreal in the guise of an adult I would always make an effort to say hello to Tim’s mom. My friend Marty has been a stalwart in North Vancouver for years although I don’t believe I need Marty’s home fax number any longer. Kevin, Rene, Jim, Paul and Dean could be master criminals, changing area codes and ditching burner phones in dumpsters behind 7-11 stores.

My old address book is a melancholy treasure chest. X marks the spot: ex-bosses, ex-colleagues, ex-friends, ex-wives and ex-girlfriends. Exit. The truly painful part is the roll of the dead within its pages: disease, natural causes, suicide. They comprise the letters I can no longer write, the e-mails I can no longer send and the long distance calls I can no longer place. My little black book of the blues.

My new address book is like a resolution made on a cold, late night in December: slim, fit! I’ve culled my dead contacts, written the survivors down in harder graphite. Tim’s been pared from a full page to a name, a city and a cell phone. If he moves again I won’t have much erasing to do. If I ever require his street and house number, I can just call him or send an e-mail request.

Meanwhile, I’ve read that the Stones are working on a new album which just goes to show that nothing’s really changed: not my friends – old and new - no one, nobody and certainly not me and so I need an updated address book even though I really don’t.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

SAINTS PRESERVE US

A Bullet Dodged

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

I have to say I prefer my emergency alerts more benign in nature, EXTREME COLD for instance. I’m thinking that if Ann and I had been back on Maui yesterday, we would’ve grabbed some chairs, beer and cigarettes and gone to the beach, held hands and watched the fireworks. Nuclear Armageddon, a ruined holiday; tell me, what else would we do? Make love.

Though the advance warning of the apocalypse was no drill, it was a mistake. A simple human error transmitted to every digital device in the state. Given the tensions between a fading empire overseen by a “dotard” and a failed state under the inherited heel of a “little Rocket Man,” its timing could not have been more exquisite. We are cursed with interesting times dominated by plump, unstable individuals and the idea of an unprovoked missile attack is no preposterous Pentagon thought experiment.

“It’s not a mere threat, but a reality that I have a nuclear button on the desk in my office. All of the mainland United States is within range of our nuclear strike.”

“I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

Aloha! Hang loose! Panic! The Cuban Missile Crisis cranked up to a Spinal Tap 11. Hawaiians and their tourist guests on Saturday lived an absurd alternate reality, sort of a conflated conflagration of Dr. Strangelove and On the Beach for 18 minutes. Meanwhile Tweeterdumbest kept playing golf because Hawaii is a blue state. Knowledgeable Republicans were quick to lay the blame for the emergency fiasco at the feet of former presidents Clinton and Obama because those men were soft on an insignificant point along the “axis of evil.” Of course.

One miracle is that the inadvertent incident did not escalate beyond embarrassment. Perhaps golf isn’t such an idiotic game after all. Still, I wonder about the ultimate fate of a world hackled by the machinery of war. Just how reliable are the systems and their operators? I’ve no desire to be incinerated because somebody else was having a bad day; wasn’t paying attention. Procedures and protocols are easily circumvented, just read the business, politics and sports sections of the morning paper.

I suspect the other miracles born of this latest brush with insanity will be delivered happy, healthy and innocent about mid-September.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

HUMAN WRECKAGE

Off to a Great Start

My father’s parents were English émigrés who met and married in Montreal prior to the onset of the Great War. A delightful consequence of these roots for me was that as a child I could look forward to the gift of a Rupert the Bear book each Christmas. Last night before I fell asleep I thought of my grandparents and Rupert; it wasn’t nostalgia.

On one adventure Rupert went to the North Pole and stayed overnight as the guest of the North Wind. His room was so cold that he spread his red jumper and checkered yellow pants atop his blankets for additional warmth. I went to bed last night wearing a fleece pullover, a t-shirt, shorts, flannel pants and heavy socks. I snuggled under the duvet, a Hudson Bay blanket and a sheet. Outside, it was 33 below zero. Inside, important components of our furnace had given up their ghosts. Early Wednesday morning I’d been awakened by strange new bumps in the night; I thought nothing of them, too sleepy.

Ann is encased in so many layers of clothing she’s bouncing off the walls like the Michelin Tire Lady. Yesterday she telephoned our survivalist neighbour across the alley hoping to borrow a space heater. The fellow has cached guns, bottled water and tinned food in his basement, all set for the apocalypse, the obvious guy to call. Shockingly, he was unable to help. Perhaps the triumph of the Tweeterdumbest regime south of Canada has renewed his faith in humanity.

The first week of the New Year was no better. Last Friday we learned about a phenomenon our home contractor termed “attic rain.” About three years ago Ann and I undertook an extensive renovation of the Crooked  9. The house was wrapped with an additional envelope of insulation before the exterior planking was upgraded and replaced. The tar and gravel roof was shingled. The aluminum windows, top of the line before MS-DOS existed, were replaced. The result was cozy: our home cool in the summer months and warmer and more efficient during the winter. Little did we know that these improvements would create a new and unforeseen problem.

We need moisture in our house, especially in this northern climate, for our wood furniture, our potted plants, our own dry, cracked skins. The excess, in the form of vapour, needs to be vented efficiently. Extreme temperature fluctuations, sudden 30-degree swings anomalies no longer, flash froze condensation in our rafters before it could be expelled and eventually flash thawed it. Attic rain tripped our hardwired smoke and carbon monoxide alarm circuitry.

Ann and I did not realize the cause of the emergency at the time. How could we? Between the screeching beeps the lady who has voiced every call centre prompt there ever was instructed us to call 911. “Fire!” “Carbon monoxide!” I did a jog-through inspection of the house, somehow remembering to feel for heat through a closed door before opening it. A cigarette was probably a bad idea. Ann and I stood facing each other in the hall by the front door, indecisive. No one in their right mind wants a community’s first responders to actually work. Especially because of a false alarm. Then again, neither one of us desired “stupidity” listed as cause of death on our morgue forms. We called the hotline. The fire trucks screamed up. We shivered on the driveway. I thought, “The cats are still inside. Wait, make that cat, singular.” The afternoon before we’d irrevocably changed the internal dynamic of the Crooked 9.

Mungo, aged 19, was dispatched to his tenth life on January 4th. He was just a grey tabby but his looks were somewhat exotic. His face, his muzzle, his ears… he was assembled with triangles lifted from harlequin paintings and kindergarten puzzles. His eyes were shaped like almonds, aslant. He lost so many fights through the years that we suspected brain and nerve damage, a NASCAR cat always tilting to the left. As he lost his wits, he lost weight and his balance. We knew the major organs inside that skinny frame were failing. Mungo’s bucket kicker was utilizing every room he could get into as a litter box. Puddles and piles of stench. We could cope with his constant vomiting, but that was our limit.

Ann always says, “Everything’s fine until it isn’t.” Rocker Joe Walsh rhymed similar wisdom in Life of Illusion: “Pow! Right between the eyes/Oh! How nature loves her little surprises.” Things can always get worse. What’s next? At this moment, the Crooked 9 is spic-and-span, warm, dry and not entirely catless. It’s all good. Still, there are 50 more weeks to go in 2018. That’s worrisome.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

EAT ME

And I Frowned at the Crumbs of a Crust of Bread

Third generation grocery scion Galen Weston has admitted his family-run conglomerate of retail outlets, food processing plants and bakeries have been inflating the price of bread across Canada for 14 years. He is very contrite and swears that his employees who engineered the scheme no longer work for him in any capacity. Naturally, he had no knowledge of their activities and as such will keep his royal blood title with Loblaw Companies Ltd., his head, and his rap sheet pristine.

It has been speculated that the miracle manna which sustained the Israelites on their exodus from Egypt was a type of bread. “Give us this day our daily bread.” The world famous Bavarian purity laws were not decreed for the greater glory of beer nor quality control. Limiting a brew’s ingredients kept demand for grains aside from barley low thereby reducing costs for bakers. The fourth Earl of Sandwich, on a gambling jag, demanded “some meat between some bread” so he could eat without fuss and keep playing. Revolutions are not ignited by a single spark, but surely the inflated price of a loaf of bread did not work in the favour of France’s remote and removed aristocracy. “Let them eat cake.” In the last weeks of his life, the late musician Warren Zevon advised television talk show host David Letterman and his live studio audience to “Enjoy every sandwich.”

Loblaw has had some very bad ink in the business pages of the newspapers lately. Stores will be closed this year, 22 of them, their locations secret; naturally some long term employees must be shown the automatic EXIT door. Vendors have been pole-axed by significant and arbitrary invoice processing fees. Now the rat fink who’d been living large lapping up the purposely spilt flour on the bakery floor has cut a deal with the authorities, crumbs both for the good cop and the bad cop in the interrogation cell.

The squealer sang for his self-preservation. He fingered rival grocery banners as complicit in the scheme even though they don’t possess the resource of granddad’s massive baking operations to fix prices. In fact, he sells his expensive bread to his competitors.

The admission of guilt is followed by a pathetic mea culpa, a paltry public relations exercise hinging on the distribution of $25 Loblaw gift cards. Because, really, how many loaves of bread would the average household consume over the course of 14 years? Who can know because even the most insane of anal retentive grocery shoppers will not hoard 14 years’ worth of receipts. The cynical beauty of the complimentary SORRY! cards is something to behold: online registration will provide Loblaw key customer data; the cards will drive traffic to Loblaw stores; nobody ever spends the exact amount of a gift card; finally, usage may deprive hasty disgruntled consumers from sharing in the infinitely more lucrative proceeds of a successful class action lawsuit.

Fixing the price of a global human staple takes a gallon of casual, entitled arrogance chased down by a quart of unmitigated gall. This is James Bond villainy. This is worse than Coca-Cola selling your free tap water back to you in a branded, tinted plastic bottle. Our daily bread is as real as it gets, not as abstract as a software-rigged Volkswagen diesel emission test result. Canadians have been gouged by a corporation who had the means to do it and who had no ethical dilemma about doing it until it was apparent they were going to get nabbed for doing it. Many Canadians have already queued in the Loblaw digital bread line; starting next week they can expect to receive their crummy apology.

Monday, 1 January 2018

A FAN’S NOTES

Goodbye to All That

On the first day of the year, the morning after its coldest night, it’s time to pause and reflect on the recent past. Because I’m a deep thinker, my topic is sports. My consumption of this form of entertainment is off the chart; it barely registers anymore.

Last summer I attended three Edmonton Prospects games. The ball is low level, collegiate. The attraction is the yard situated down on the river flats. The grandstand offers a sweeping view of the city’s skyline up on the ridge and the stacks of the disused Pink Floyd power station behind the left field wall. The park is a different backdrop for banter and beer with friends.

I made an effort to turn on the television for just one major league game this season, game seven of the World Series. I cannot sit still for four hours. I took three innings off to go outside and shovel freshly fallen snow. I spent time in the kitchen grinding coffee for the morrow. I puttered around the house, fussing, straightening, put the garbage and recycling out in the alley.

Football was my best sport in high school and here out west football still matters. The clubs existed long before professional hockey set down roots. In November I got around to paying attention. I tuned into four games: the Canadian university Vanier Cup championship, the Canadian Football League’s East and West finals, and the Grey Cup finale. While the games were being played I managed to vacuum the house and scrub the shower and the bath.

I have not seen a single down of American football this fall or winter. I used to follow the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. I can’t quite put my finger on what turned me off exactly. Just like baseball, jingoism disguised as patriotism invaded the stadia. Politics turned up and said, “Watch this, hold my keg.” The inane, jargon-heavy commentary from the broadcast booth became intolerable. I tired of judging the morals and ethics of the interchangeable players, the owners and the executive.

Hockey when played skillfully and creatively is the greatest sport on Earth. That’s my Canadian bias, an opinion from a country defined by winter. The game, like other sports, has curdled, over-coached, overly specialized and like football, made boring to watch, a tremendously difficult achievement. Like football, hockey’s protective gear has become weaponized, utterly altering the dynamic of the sport. Conversely, but related, armoured baseball batters have no qualms about crowding the plate no matter how hard the pitcher throws. The end goals of these matches have not changed but the means have been fundamentally buggered.

I love the Montreal Canadiens. I have made just three attempts to watch their games on television since the hockey season revved up in the fall before Thanksgiving. I left the sound off on each occasion because coiffed, concussed talking heads have nothing to say to me. The team itself is a marketer’s nightmare, unexciting and lousy. They’re done. Game on! Think I’ll go and sweep out the garage or get down on my hands and knees and scrub the baseboards in the hallway.

I have not watched a sports channel newscast in more than a year. I’ve not looked at highlights on any digital platform. I still open my morning newspaper to the sports section, as has been my custom for 45 years. I don’t read the columns of type, just scan the headlines and the words jump out like a potboiler jacket blurb: money, sex, drugs, domestic violence, dementia, death.

The magic of sport remains the lure of a narrative with, ideally, an unpredictable ending. The saturation of stories makes them matter less and less, too many games on too many nights. Still, all of us, the fans, can join together with our tribe and rally against a common enemy. Unfortunately, the enemies are now too numerous and anonymous to get worked up about.

I must conclude from my shrunken viewing habits and my declining interest that the spectacle of sport no longer provides a worthwhile distraction from the day-to-day realities of my ever-shortening life. There are far more enjoyable and interesting ways to spend my time, squander it even.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

THE DELETE BIN

Ten Years After

On the lower right hand side of this site there always has and always will be a link to The Delete Bin, one of the most thoughtful and well written music blogs on the lifehouse grid. On December 18th, exactly one decade to the day, founder, writer and editor Rob Jones published his last post.

“I was mostly interested in talking about pop music as a means to understanding what it is to be alive and human. I felt like it was important work to do, as well as being a lot of fun. In terms of pure numbers, everyone loved blogs of the kind The Delete Bin was in 2008-09, which is roughly when I enjoyed quite a bit of traffic and interaction. I was lucky to get a number of regular visitors and commenters; very smart and articulate people who would add dimension to what I had written. That’s how that relationship used to be when it came to bloggers and blogs. It’s a lot tougher these days to be heard above the din and to get a sense of that connection.”

I first became acquainted with Rob on a music chat board with a British URL about 15 years ago. We learned that we were neighbours, sort of, the Rocky Mountains in the way. We’ve met over pints of beer on a couple of occasions at the Lennox pub on Granville Street in downtown Vancouver. I was a sporadic, irregular contributor to The Delete Bin. Rob said to me once, “You know, you should start your own blog.”

“When I started The Delete Bin, I knew I wanted to talk to people who didn’t already have a fixed opinion on everything that moves; I wanted to talk to people who were ready to be amazed by something they’d never heard before, or had heard but never thought about in a certain way. Aside from that, and to be honest, one of my biggest motivations to start my own thing was just to have some vehicle to force me to write something new every day, however that turned out, and for that to be mine. I wasn’t even sure if anyone would join me in my pursuit, or that I had much to really say that would resonate with anyone. It was just calisthenics at first.”

The Delete Bin was a doubly inspired endeavour. The name evokes a bygone era of vinyl, of record stores with dusty racks purveying discounted albums with the corners of their sleeves clipped, of radio play lists generated by payola instead of corporate computer programs; the days of a parallel and thriving music press. Rob says, “I got into reading music journalism primarily when I lived in England where that kind of in-depth writing and music history is treated pretty seriously, and not strictly as a means of furthering celebrity or selling ad space. Great music journalism reminds me of how important artists are to civilization. Artists’ efforts and the fruits of it help us to understand each other, to empathize with each other.”

The masterstroke came once Rob had found his stride. He avoided lists and the current hypes. The majority of his posts were narrowly focused, insightful, entertaining essays about specific songs: new releases, obscurities or classics. “Listen to this, good people!” That format allowed The Delete Bin to evolve from a daily scan into an archival resource. The content can never get stale because great records never die, and the Internet is forever presently.

“As much as I love the album format, I realized fairly early on that when it came to writing about music, it was ‘the song’ that is the base unit for me. That really helped to unlock a direction for the writing. From there, it was a lot easier to figure out what the nature of pop music and artistry is for. It was about the concept of connection as the prime motivator for creating anything meant to be consumed on a wide scale, whether that’s a song or a piece of writing about a song. Songs are written for different reasons. But for me the most interesting ones are those that touch on something personal, but also have some bearing on the human condition in some capacity.”

Ten years burned down the road, it’s time for a change. “I’m pretty excited about co-hosting the Deeper Cuts podcast. We touch on many of the same things as I tried to touch on with The Delete Bin, with a particular focus on the balance between personal associations with specific pieces of music, and how that translates from past to present, from person to person. It’s a unique approach, and I think it’s resonant.” The beat goes on. “There’s so much great stuff being made right now and so many ways to hear it. It’s a great time to be a music fan.”

Monday, 18 December 2017

SAINTS PRESERVE US

The Eternal Running of the Heaven Stakes

The scene is an immense, infinite oval track. The infield is filled, rife with promises, rituals, weapons of all types, instruments of torture, sacred texts, and religious icons including statuary, stained glass and paintings. The grandstand, large enough to seat every person on the planet is decorated with festive bunting. Hawkers move about selling souvenirs, hope and hypocrisy.

Geoff: If you’re just joining us, welcome to the Heaven Stakes, the longest and longest-running race in the history of humanity. Track conditions are poor, the weather is abysmal and there is darkness all around. That said, this race has never been about the present so much as the reward beyond the finish line. Some have mused that the closed nature of the loop is beyond irony. I’m Geoff your host, sharing the booth with me, as usual, is the Other Voice in My Head.

Other Voice in My Head: Hi, Geoff. Great to be here. Glad to be alive and living in the moment.

G: Likewise, O.V. Good to hear your voice again. And just to recap: the Atheists and Existentialists were early scratches and the Puritans and Quakers have dropped out.

OViMH: But hold your horses, it’s still a very crowded and complicated field. You know, Geoff, I always figured there are, what, three or four major religions on Earth?

G: You would think, O.V. But then you start talking about history, about sects and schisms…

OViMH: Don’t forget the culties!

G: And the members of various cults… By the way, this just in, the Raelians have killed themselves.

OViMH: That’s no way to run a race, you need to compete. Be more like the Mormons with a few extra fillies on the track, if you know what I mean.

G: The Catholics have changed jockeys, but still, there’s a tremendous amount of baggage to be hauled, centuries’ worth.

OViMH: So, Geoff, who do you like in this contest, this Run for Our Souls? I mean, there’s plenty to choose from and so where do you place your bet? By the same token, it’s a wager you can’t afford to lose, really. Or can you? Does any of it matter? Is it just an intellectual game?

G: Tough question, O.V. It’s all a human construct, isn’t it? The Lutherans have been complaining about the rules for 500 years. The Jews recently gained a home field advantage and you’ve got to like that chip on their shoulder. I wonder if the zealot strategy of the Sunnis and Shiites will backfire. Tough call.

OViMH: Well, you know the Seventh Day Adventists will always be a day late. And when was the last time you saw a Jehovah’s Witness? Get it?

G: You’re killing me, O.V. Hang on, there’s an orange, fiery flash down on the straightaway. I smell sulphur. It looks like Satan’s making a move. Audacious! He’s opened up a fast lane, a veritable highway! He’s on the inside approaching the turn!

OViMH: He’s always had an intense, albeit small group of supporters. They make their presence known everywhere you go.

G: Look at that little devil go! We could all be going to Hell, O.V.! But don’t bet on it! Here come the Baptists! The Baptists, so prim, pinched and proper, are giving chase! They’re calling for donations to run the dark horse off the track!

OViMH: A little tithing will do ya, apparently. Got to love those plucky evangelicals. Let’s see that again in slow-motion.

G: Here we go. Satan cuts to the inside past the Sikhs and the Anglicans. You can see the Baptists begin to thump the bejesus out of their horse ‘Bible.’

OViMH: Freeze it, freeze it right there. Now, look at the rear of the pack. Behind even the Parsees and the Pantheistic Mythologies, you can see the Buddhists. It’s as if their heads are in the clouds or something, as if the race has little or no meaning. Cool, calm, collected, la-di-da, laid back, they’re just so, so…

G: Zen?

OViMH: I was going to say, out of it, Rasta, almost: 'Every little thing's going to be all right.'

G: Love the way you lob those segues to me, O.V., just saying! Speaking of out of it, let’s break away from our broadcast for a brief, paid political commercial interruption.