Tuesday, 31 December 2019

HUMAN WRECKAGE

You Say You Want a Resolution

Over the past twelve months I’ve kept a list of every book I’d read in 2019. This was prompted by my membership in a Facebook group dedicated to books and reading. I was surprised and somewhat disappointed upon review that my total only amounted to 29 because I’m essentially retired and I’ve got the time to enjoy a tale well told. In my defense, I’m nearing the completion of the first draft of a new novel of my own. Just have to write the rest of the words down.

I remember sitting down with a friend of mine named Mike in a Tottenham Court Road pub late last September. He was months into his retirement. He said over a pint, “I thought I’d be spending my days reading books and listening to music, but I’ve been busy doing other things, anything and everything else, in fact. I don’t know how I managed when I was still working.”

Yesterday evening Ann and I sat down at the counter and flipped through the operating system of the Crooked 9, our kitchen wall calendar. Memorable times were flagged by departure and return dates. There were my minutiae, left-handed and angled: “first robin,” “first snow,” “furnace filter.” Most days of any particular week had time blocked off for appointments, events, invitations and social obligations – too many funerals.

And hadn’t the remaining hours in each day quietly filled themselves with household tasks, chores and projects, and errands? We read our newspapers and magazines. We browsed the internet and binged on long form television. We took walks and we took naps. And Ann and I always found time to talk about it all, anything and everything.

I spend a lot of time viewing the world through the lens of the window pane in our back door. I don’t believe thinking – pondering, wondering – is a waste of time. Things get done, written even, in a silent, neurological way. The other day Ann said, “This is a good spot, I just might take it over.” Stand in my footprints, one size fits us both. Ann usually gets her cogitating done in the wee, expanded hours of sleeplessness. Maybe I’ll take a few minutes and create a sort of time-share back door window schedule for us. We can take shifts, punch the clock.

Contemplating the nature of my passing days, I realize that I’ve even enjoyed the time I’ve wasted. And that is a comforting conclusion to arrive at because at this stage of my life I know there are more days behind me than ahead. There are eight new books stacked on my night table. Should I be able to absorb and enjoy them at the rate of one per week, this impending new year suggests the promise and pleasure of 44 more just like them. Time permitting.    

meGeoff has been your most reliable, balanced, accurate and alternative source of nonsense since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9.

Monday, 23 December 2019

SAINTS PRESERVE US

The Ministry of Truth

Oh, whither Alberta. I live in the only Canadian province or territory that possesses what its government describes in all seriousness as a ‘war room.’ Thing is, the United States hasn’t attempted an invasion of Canada for more than two hundred years and, gee, the Russians don’t appear to be coming anytime soon. War is a federal jurisdiction, anyway. Still, a bunker mentality coupled with an inward-looking ‘us and them’ outlook apparently makes fine policy.

The Canadian Energy Centre (CEC) is neither an industry lobby association nor an independent think tank. It is instead the recently grown propaganda lizard tail of Alberta’s ruling United Conservative Party (UCP) government. Publicly funded in a winter of austerity to an annual tune of $30-million, the vaguely Orwellian CEC is also shielded from the public’s right to know; freedom of information requests are simply missed messages, droppings in tailings ponds.

The centre’s mission is twofold: Alberta’s archaic single resource economy based on unrefined fossil fuel extraction must be promoted and preserved at any cost; Alberta’s enemies, who include indigenous Canadians, eastern Canadians, British Columbians and rich, sinister foreign forces who believe in viable energy alternatives, must be tarred and feathered. It’s just so much easier to complain and spin as opposed to looking forward and then making some harsh and necessary (albeit unpopular) decisions on behalf of the electorate for the greater good. Goddamn, if seven months into a four-year mandate isn’t the perfect time to display some sensible, worldly political courage; we voters can be awfully forgetful years away from an election.

The UCP’s ‘Ministry of Truth’ botched it from the start. Every war room needs a logo apparently because even SPECTRE in the James Bond movies has a logo (SMERSH, a genuine and lethal Soviet assassination bureau did not get hung up on PR). The CEC’s commissioned logo, designed by a Calgary firm I’ve never heard of, was one for this digital age, bold and simple, an easily distinguishable visual prompt intended to function as an iPhone thumbnail or social media avatar. Touch this?

Consider a classic modern logo: Amazon: a soft, curvy lowercase font, underscored by a smiling arrow that points from A to Z; if it doesn’t say it all it surely suggests possibilities. The CEC logo looked like a pair of half drawn cubes accentuated by an imperfect isosceles triangle which might be a shadow inside the smaller cube and which of course points in three directions. Geometry can be tricky for artists but the real problem was that the CEC symbol was exactly the same as that of a NASDAQ-traded US software firm. Their logo in its original colour and context remains a cryptic symbol. It doesn’t indicate anything to me about what that company does. Maybe they sell square Marks-A-Lots.

Any reputable ad shop will do its due diligence before presenting a client with a proposed logo or slogan. Any client with a shred of common sense will pay those minor fees upfront because the alternative, litigation following the production of all related materials, is an expensive hassle and ultimately, once public knowledge, destroys credibility utterly. Can’t even get that right, eh? How hard can it be?

What’s worrisome about the CEC (and other such agencies), its inauspicious and inept debut aside, is that it exists. It used to be that government communiqu├ęs fell into two categories: public service announcements and press releases from various ministries. The latter were never published or broadcast verbatim by the Canadian media. Beat reporters, knowledgeable and dogged, not party acolytes, would vet the capital’s spin. The decline of traditional media in the Information Age has created a gaping niche only to be filled by the likes of CEC; we are losing our objective filters.

More and more we are watching and reading what they want us to watch and read. Should I find the idea of a war room and a stolen logo laughable, should I be disinclined to absorb what they want me to, well, I can easily find alternative sources of misinformation that dovetail with my own ill-informed views. But what’s the point of that? It’s too easy to take an inflexible position. I may not qualify for MENSA but nor am I simple. I don’t want war; I’d be happier with a modicum of civil, rational debate and a little forward thinking. Inclusive discussion could ensure everybody wins.

meGeoff has been your most reliable, balanced and accurate source of nonsense since 2013. Sign up for e-mail alerts from the Crooked 9.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES

Montreal Calling

Forty years ago this month the Clash released their third album. London Calling was a double set for the price of a single LP. Its cover paid homage to Elvis’s first RCA release, pink and green type over a black and white performance picture that was worth a thousand chords – even if only one or two were played. London Calling was punk’s Exile on Main St. in that it dove into all sorts of musical styles and did not belly-flop.

I owned two copies of the Clash’s debut album because the British and American versions featured different artwork and different songs – think of early Beatles and Stones albums. The second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, was slicker and should have been radio massive. But they, along with the Boomtown Rats and the Del-lords, never happened. The appalling irony is that corporate commercial radio now considers the Clash ‘classic rock,’ right up there with Toto – oh, please fuck off.

The Clash was not my big brother’s Beach Boys nor my older sister’s Beatles. They hit when I still required fake I.D. to buy a tavern beer. The Clash were my band. Their label Epic promoted them in the music press as ‘The only band that matters.’ That tag line did not read as hyperbole. And the minor miracle still lay ahead: a few years on I witnessed the Clash re-enact the legend of the walls of Jericho in Montreal’s Verdun Auditorium.

So.

I was intrigued to learn about a mini-festival tribute to the Clash and London Calling to be staged in my old hometown. ‘Montreal Calling’ would feature some of my favourite local bands who were active during the Clash’s heyday and my last years in the city including Three O’Clock Train, the Asexuals and Ripcordz. Various members of Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade, current bands I’ve only heard of, were set to participate. The headliners included New Jersey punk darling Jesse Malin, Tommy Stinson from the Replacements (and Chinese Democracy Guns n’ Roses) and the legendary Alejandro Escovedo.

My Montreal brother in law Al and I have attended a few notable shows together through the years. I recall a spring visit, my mother hosting Easter dinner. Al and I were seated across the dining room table from one another. He said, “Do you know who’s playing tonight?”

I said, “Yep.” I’d read the weekend edition of The Gazette.

“Do you wanna go?”

“Yeah!” We hastily excused ourselves and speed-walked 40 blocks to catch Wilco and Nick Lowe in a club on Ste-Catherine near The Main.

I conferred with Al about ‘Montreal Calling.’ I said, “If you decide to go, get me a ticket, please. I’ll fly east. I haven’t travelled for a rock ‘n’ roll show in eons. This one will be a lot fun; it could even be great.”

The Corona Theatre is just a little east of Atwater on rue Notre-Dame. Its capacity is maybe 900 souls. The ceiling murals and gilt balcony railings have been refreshed. It is a majestic, palatial vaudeville relic. Cineplex doesn’t make ‘em like this anymore. The only chairs in the venue are in the balcony. We hustled downhill from Sherbrooke Street in time for the doors; we wanted seats: I’ll be 60 in February and Al’s got seven or eight years on me. After we’d settled I offered to buy him a beer.

“No, no, thanks. I’ve switched to the hard stuff for concerts and events because otherwise I spend all night in the toilet.” I laughed. I bought him a Scotch. I bought myself the first of three beers. I used to be able to drink for hours without breaking the seal. Funny, my three trips up and then down stairs to the men’s room this night weren’t hilarious at all.

The evening’s biggest disappointment was stale news. Three O’Clock Train had pulled out of the gig a week earlier. This turn of events for whatever reason did not please me because I maintain that Three O’Clock Train was one of the most important bands to gestate and grow in Montreal, ever. I’d never heard a noise like theirs before – that is until I discovered them in eighties barrooms and, dear me, the fantastical ‘Montreal Calling’ prospect of leader Mack MacKenzie thrashing cow-punk with Alejandro Escovedo was worth the price of a flight.

Still, a bill with some dozen acts provides a traveler with some assurance: I mean, they can’t all not turn up. The bands played short sets, about three songs. Segues, coiling wires, were filled by an onstage deejay spinning reggae and dub. The live music was obviously heavy on the Clash’s catalogue. Artists played their own material too and sometimes stretched things out performing punk anthems by the Stooges, Patti Smith, Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers.

When Slaves on Dope ripped through ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ I looked around and laughed at the pensioners singing along and shaking their fists. The band’s front man complained, “I’m too fucking old for this!” In that moment I remembered I was wearing a Sex Pistols t-shirt under my pullover and realized that anarchy in any form would be very bad for my investments with Raymond James and TD Bank. I had to go to the men’s room again.

When The Clash was released, either one, green or blue border, Eddie Money was positioned to be sold as the business-as-usual-next-big-thing by the North American record industry. He had more hits than the Clash did, catchier too. The future is unwritten. Ultimately Money, who died this year, devolved into a generic idol out of time, already dismissed in last month’s Hit Parader as savvy music fans tweaked and twigged to the authenticity of punk and its lyrics (provided you could make them out) which rang as true as Bob Dylan’s chimes of freedom.

Huffing after my much fitter brother in law as we strode uphill underneath the expressway and the train tracks, I paused to puff on my cigarette and look back into the slushy darkness behind us. Forty years ago the Clash sang to me about big, important stuff, capitalism, civil rights, consumerism, fascism and racism and the like, but God help me, I found myself singing Eddie fucking Money: “I wanna go back ‘cause I’m feeling so much older but I can’t go back, I know.” And I suppose that is the tragic flaw of tribute concerts no matter how well intentioned.  


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