Hi, Remember Me?

Yes, I understand. You’re upset with me.

Like the man said, “it’s been a long time since I rock ‘n rolled.” Things have been more than a little busy at work over the last month or so. I know you don’t care about the particulars, so I just erased a whole bunch of crap that I typed, the sum total of which boils down to this: over the last little bit, I’ve felt like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest, and between things going on at work, groundskeeping chores, a series of (most welcome) house guests, and some other new developments here on the home front, I have been unable to devote any time whatsoever to you, my virtual friends. Pity.

Please feel free to sue me for failing to provide you with your usual level of comfort and support.

In the meantime, I have a few moments right now, during which I’ll share with you one of my latest projects. I went out today and bought a USB turntable. I am converting some of my old vinyl records into digital format so that I can load ’em on my iPod and rock out 1980s style while I’m cutting the lawn. Also, Spouse and I have become very tired of the music we’ve been listening to over and over again in the car recently. It is hoped that the new (old) music may provide some much needed variety, being as it is the spice of life.

I have crates and crates of records in the storage room downstairs, and this conversion project will take some time. In the interests of generating some posts around here (especially in the absence of Maple Leaf hockey), I thought I’d try writing a little post about some of the records I’m converting. The only rule I’m making for myself is that I must write the post while the record is playing.

Today’s entry: The Cars – Heartbeat City

A Scantily Clad Chick, A Green Duster and Some Crappy Music

Look, first of all, I don’t want to hear about how it’s an outrage that I chose a mediocre album by a band that you don’t like as the subject for this first post. I know, The Cars weren’t exactly as talented as the Beatles, and 1984’s Heartbeat City , although no doubt the band’s most commercially successful effort, does not represent their best work.

But seriously, I had to learn where to do this conversion stuff starting somewhere, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to start with some music that is truly meaningful to me. Actually, that last sentence is more than a little disingenuous; this music does matter to me, in a way. As I sit here and type, I’m finding myself sorely tempted to separate myself and my musical tastes from this record; I know it is crap, and I guess I do not wish to be judged by you for being associated with it. Nevertheless, to be honest, I would be lying if I did not admit that listening to this record is, to me, highly evocative of a certain something.

A quick contextual review: The Cars burst on to the “New Wave” scene in the late ’70s . Their stripped-down, straight ahead and vaguely techno sound was a part of a whole reactionary movement in music, an attempt to answer some of the serious excess that had become part and parcel of mainstream rock in the middle of the decade following sprawling and epic works from artists like Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Peter Frampton, etc. By far the best part of The Cars’ oeuvre comes from their first three records: their eponymous debut, Candy-O and Panorama, all three of which were released before the seventies were over. By 1984, The Cars had definitely jumped the shark and had ironically become in many ways a mid-80s version of the very thing they had started out opposing. Case in point: John “Mutt” Lange produced (and produced and produced, and yes, I’m saying “over produced”) Heartbeat City. Edges are polished, everything is musically letter perfect and there are harmonies that pop and sparkle. All of the edges, though, have been softened. Don’t believe me? Listen to “Good Times Roll” or “Touch and Go” from those early records and then follow it up with “Drive” from this album. If you want to move right past “unbelievably saccharine sweet” and go straight to “diabetic coma”, check out the version of that tune that the band performed at Live Aid in the summer of ’85.

Anyway, my point is that I know: this record ain’t exactly Dark Side of the Moon, or anything monumental, meaningful, or even necessarily “good.” By 1984, Ric Ocasek was more interested in trying to figure out, like everybody else, how the hell he managed to hook up with a 19-year old Paulina Porizkova and why she would ever be interested in a – let’s face it – homely fucker like him. The band’s performance at Live Aid was proof positive that its best years were in the past, and established without a doubt that sappy, synth-driven pieces of dreck like “Magic” would remain popular forever because God essentially hates human beings.

I know all of that. But some albums (look it up, youngsters – we had them before iTunes came along) just evoke certain points in time and space, and for me personally, this is one of them. The second I put this record on the turntable, I was transported. It was 1984 again and I was in the basement of my parents’ home working on some program or other that I was (forever) writing on the Commodore 64, occasionally dumping the code out in printed LIST form on the dot matrix printer. True story: when typing this post, I knew what year this record was released without even looking at the dust jacket. I spent a lot of time in that basement, as my pasty skin in any period photographs will attest, typing away on that little keyboad, trying to fix my little electronic creations with 10 REM FILE HANDLING PROGRAM comments and switching between this album and David Bowie’s Let’s Dance or Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense on the turntable, or (if I happened to be rocking the cassette deck instead) the Violent Femmes‘ or Specials‘ debut. Truth be told, though, although I prefer the music from any one of those other albums, when I close my eyes and think back to what it felt like to be loading a 5 1/4″ floppy disc in to the dogshit brown disc drive* of that computer, the music I hear is The Cars’ Heartbeat City.

I suppose there’s some justice, then, to that music being the soundtrack as I sit here 26 years later, still tapping away on a keyboard on yet another summer day, starting another epic digital project.

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*the technically advanced 64 had a disc drive instead of cassette tape storage. The discs held 360 KB of information

Them Blades at Mitzi’s Sister

Met up with a few of the folks from Pension Plan Puppets last night for the very first time in person. Thanks to the organiz-y efforts of @kidkawartha, Spouse and I were able to meet him and @kimjorn for dinner at Mitzi’s Sister on Queen St. W. in Toronto before Them Blades took the stage later that evening. Also joining us – once he managed to make a brief escape from an ongoing slumber party, as I understand it – was @mforbes37.

KidK will be well known to those who read the comments around here. Jorn is lead guitarist for Them Blades.  He and  another fellow by the name of Godd Till (@zambonicyouth) now reputedly write with @mforbes37 (himself of Bitter Leaf Fan fame) at a site called Zambonic Youth, but I don’t believe it because I am fairly certain that the last new post over there was drafted on a cuneiform tablet by ancient Egyptians.

Spouse and I had a great time meeting these PPP peeps and the others in attendance too. At the very same time that this was going on, there were a lot of other PPP’ers meeting up with one another in the Big City last night;  there was a huge crew meeting up at the Loose Moose for a combination spontaneous birthday celebration for Down Goes Brown/pre-game piss-up (PPP overlords Chemmy and SkinnyFish had driven up from the States for Saturday night’s Leafs/Habs tilt).

I thought that I’d post the video below – a quick clip I took of the band playing their third song of the night – so the PPP’ers who couldn’t make it out to Mitzi’s would be able to see a little of Kim Jorn’s band for themselves.

I hope the folk in Them Blades don’t mind that I’ve posted this video clip; I haven’t asked their permission. I think the name of the song is “Rock the Cashbar”. As a point of interest, keep your eyes peeled for the freaky looking dude on the dance floor near the mid-point of the video; he was the drummer from one of the other bands on the bill. Reportedly, he had difficulty keeping hold of his drum sticks, played much of his set clad in his boxers, and fell off the drum throne 3 times.

Someone Stole My Idea, Several Years Before I Had It

Yesterday, Spouse and I were out for a drive in the Big Nickel listening to the local radio (Q92 – they “move more rock than Inco”).  Unsurprisingly, after having the radio on for eight minutes, the programming included some Black Sabbath:  Iron Man.

Spouse and I were in a bit of a creative mood and we felt that the tune – though entertaining – could use a bit of re-arranging.  After a few minutes’ discussion, we came to the inescapable conclusion that this song should be performed by a marching band at a football half time.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Michigan Marching Band:

Escape Plans, Folsom Prison Style

Busy, busy, busy like a bee this week.   It has been a heavy week at work for both Spouse and I, and we are starting to go into maximum-overdrive-on-the-border-of-but-not-quite-panicking (because that’s not productive) mode about the charity event we’re organizing.  We are members of the committee charged with putting together the silent auction/kick-off party for this year’s fundraising campaign.

I play in a band with a group of fellows that I know through work;  every year we take the stage and play some music at this event.  I have played enough live shows to be generally comfortable with the idea of standing in front of my microphone and opening my mouth to see what comes out, but as this particular event occurs in front of an audience of my peers, many of whom I am certain are there only to see for themselves that I remain capable of making a fool of myself while pursuing both vocation and avocation, it is a little bit more intimidating than the garden variety gig.  Despite the best of intentions – hearty agreement among band members when meeting one another on the street throughout May and June that rehearsals ought to begin imminently – the reality is somewhat abstracted from that diligent ideal.   Thus, in contrast to our aggressively discussed and much endorsed plan of action, the actual truth about our active preparations is that, as always, they are rather last-minute in nature.  Our first rehearsal was last week.  I would prefer not to comment on the quality of the musical performances involved in that evening, particularly where the lead vocals and rhythm guitar is concerned. Suffice to say that neighbourhood cats and dogs can be cruel critics.

The success in general of our noisificating and melodization during tonight’s rehearsal was best described by our lead guitarist, who observed following one particular song:  “That wasn’t anywhere near as appalling as I thought it was going to be.”

Our drummer is a gear-head, and he’s got a Disneyland-type setup in his basement;  it’s a home studio with some really nice equipment, including one of these.   Junior likes.

With all that technology so close at hand, though, it was impossible for us to resist the temptation to mike the instruments up and run the whole she-bang through various wires, plugs and gizmos in to Cubase, where our rehearsal was then digitally recorded for posterity.  One thing I have to say about that is that the microphone is a harsh mistress;  she is unforgiving, callous and stubborn.  Make a mistake with her and you will never hear the end of it.  For me, it’s been so long since I played with any regularity that my old nemesis – playing and singing at the same time – is coming back to haunt me.  Having to concentrate on what I’m doing with my fingers means I can’t devote sufficient attention in the thinking-centre portion of my coconut to recall the proper lyrics* with sufficient alacrity and then propel them through my lips with some sense of a melody that is related to the musical context.   My initial plan for performance night is to claim, loudly and often, that I am conducting experiments in contrapuntal atonality and dissonance, and to warn listeners therefore not to be alarmed by what they hear.  If this does not work, I will fake a leg injury and flee the building.

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* at one point during tonight’s performance of “Folsom Prison Blues”, my version of the lyrics had the rich folk on the “fancy dinin’ car” behaving rather oddly;  according to me, they were “smoking coffee and drinkin’ fat cigars”.   Let’s you and me fire up a mocha while sipping Cojibas some day…

I Wish the Maneater Were Slightly More Successful

I have been away from the blogging for a while. It matters not what lame excuse I might offer. According to WordPress’ little numbering system, this is post number 200, so maybe I just had a little mental block about the double century. Whatever.

The important point is that I have received a clear and unambiguous signal from my psyche and/or whatever Supernatural Overlord of the Universe you happen to believe in that it is important for me to blog. Specifically, I dreamed that Daryl Hall competed on, and won American Idol. I won’t bore you with all the weird and wacky dream logic details; suffice to say that, in my dream, there was this somewhat (ahem) more “mature-looking” dude with long blond hair and a gawdawful black trenchcoat* entered in American Idol. It was Daryl Hall. I knew it was Daryl Hall. It was obvious it was Daryl Hall. But nobody else seemed to notice that it was Daryl freakin’ Hall.

Now I need to be clear about something at this juncture. The old saw goes something like this: “there’s no accounting for taste.” I respect your right to have your own opinion about the degree to which certain forms of art successfully aspire towards the Platonic ideals of beauty. I accept that there is an element of individuality necessarily inherent in any artistic transaction; the viewer or listener brings his or her own baggage, understanding and preconceptions into the mix, necessarily imbuing the piece under consideration with a unique and highly specific meaning, leading to a potentially wide diversity of opinion concerning what is – and is not – “beautiful.” Thus, while you may, for example, quite firmly believe that Nickelback’s latest composition represents nothing less than the sound of angels exulting on earth, while I may quite reasonably believe that it is more representative, aurally, of a pack of mangy feral cats warring over garbage. Importantly, it is possible – according to the above-described paradigm – for us both to be “right.”

As a theorem, this highly inclusive, tolerant and respectful model is rather like the Newtownian system of physics: it satisfactorily describes and predicts the behaviour of the universe, but only within certain limitations. It breaks down entirely though, so far as I am concerned, with the likes of Daryl freakin’ Hall. Daryl Hall is where everything goes quantum. Limitations of space prevent me from elaborating herein upon the theory of art that is analogous to Einstein’s conception of the universe. Suffice to say that there is another such more comprehensive and complicated model, and suffice to say that this theory is able to much more objectively describe the reality of a given piece of art. Please understand, therefore, that the following statement is not just my opinion, it is an inescapable scientific conclusion: “Daryl Hall is to Philly Soul what Kenny G is to jazz.” You would be correct to conclude that I do not like the music of Daryl Hall; this is so not because my tastes differ – reasonably – from yours, but rather because it is an incontrovertible fact that Mr. Hall’s “music” is horrible shite. If you disagree with me on this point, there is simply no other way to put it: you are wrong.

Keeping these background contextual facts in mind, I am sure you can understand my dream-self’s consternation about the (apparently undetected) presence of Daryl Hall on American Idol. America wasn’t sending him home! Each week, he warbled some pap-crap blue-eyed soul abomination and – far from being pelted with the appropriate amount of vegetable material and broken glass – the American public was eating it up. Hall’s fans could be seen celebrating every such performance with Beatlesque sign-wavery and adulation. Week after week, they encouraged him to continue murdering the very notion of music by voting for him in droves. It was obvious to me that the public was deceived; they obviously didn’t recognize the blond contestant “Daryl” for what he was: a malevolent musical assassin with a proven record of musical crimes, bent on destroying joy and making Santa Claus cry with his execrable caterwauling. In my dream, I tried to warn the public: like any good Canadian, I wrote letters to the editor. I rented a billboard by the highway with a two-storey warning message. I made videos to be posted on YouTube, I went on network television and I even took out an ad in the newspaper trying to spread the word about the villainous Hall and his malevolent musical designs.

But I didn’t blog about it.

In my dream, Daryl Hall won American Idol, and – as a result – he started doing something so frightening and fantastical, I was both certain and highly relieved that I was in the middle of a dream. He started recording and selling his “music”. Thank God that’s not likely to happen for real anytime soon.

I awoke with a start, breathing heavily and sweating profusely from my nightmare. It was obvious to me that something, somewhere was trying to warn me to pay more attention to this blog, lest horribly unthinkable consequences be visited upon the entire earth. So here I am, tippy-tapping away again, telling you about it.

For the love of Pete, if Daryl Hall goes on American Idol – don’t vote for him.

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*I have this recollection of a Daryl Hall music video in which the criminal Hall appears in a long, black trench coat, gyrating awkwardly and emoting away with clenched fists as he lip-synched to his latest piece of inveterate garbage. This particular composition, I believe, was one in which the equally egregious Oates was not complicit. I have spent more time this evening than I care to admit (to either you OR myself) pawing through the video evidence of Mr. Hall’s detritus on YouTube, but I haven’t been able to confirm my very vivid horrific recollection. It is a process that is complicated by the fact that I can’t remember the name of the song in question. Is anybody able to help me solve the mystery?

Static Journey, vol. 2

I dipped into the second volume of Darin Cappe’s 9 volume box set retrospective of the Rheostatics’ career. Darin is releasing one volume a week up ’til the end of March, in order to commemorate the one year anniversary of the last Rheos concert. I posted about volume one here.

Volume 2 of Static Journey is almost entirely about Melville, the Rheostatics’ second album. Released in 1991, this was the record that truly established the band’s credibility among fans, critics and (perhaps most importantly, in terms of their ultimate influence on Canadian music) musicians. One doesn’t so much listen to that album as come to terms with it. My own experience with the record is probably more or less typical; when I first listened to the disc, I didn’t quite get it – the songs didn’t resonate, and it all just sounded kind of weird and foreign to my ears. I had occasion to listen to the thing repeatedly more or less unintentionally – there was a cassette dub of the record in my car that I listened to frequently while going back and forth between Toronto and Windsor on weekend visits to my then girlfriend. I only listened to the Rheostatics side to get back to the beginning of the recording on the other side. As time went by, I found myself strangely drawn to these songs, and gradually I became addicted to Melville; needless to say, I can no longer even remember what was on the other side of that tape. My point is that the music is somewhat inaccessible, or at least not immediately so, if one is coming from a more-or-less mainstream sensibility – but one thing Melville did was to announce, from the opening chords of Record Body Count that this album would be something different. It took some effort, attention and involvement to understand the record, but once I really sat and listened to it, I didn’t want to hear anything else.

Static Journey vol.1

ggdposterSome thoughts on volume 1 of Darin Cappe’s Static Journey “box set” retrospective on the Rheostatics (you can get it here):

  • I was a little disappointed initially that the first track in the set – position of primacy, very important – was not in fact a Rheostatics track, but rather the Introduction for the band that was sung by Dave Bookman (accompanied by Steve Stanley) prior to the band taking the stage on the evening of the last concert. It all made sense though, right near the end of the track when you can hear the first thunderous applause as the band takes the stage; it sent chills up my spine again, just the way it did on that night, thinking of all the Sprouts assembled in the grand old concert hall. I remember it occurring to me that this last show was likely the first time ever that all the Sprouts were together like that at one time, just to see the Rheos (most club shows were good for maybe 200 attendees at most, and even the Bathurst Street Theatre shows in ’97 couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 hundred at most, and at Maple Leaf Gardens or Molson Park Canada Day shows – well, those of us who were there had tickets to see other bands too, so that doesn’t count).

New Rheostatics Material

Okay, well not exactly “new.” The band is still broken up, so they’re not producing any new material. Not to worry, though, because Green Sprout* extraordinaire Darin Cappe has been working on a project – a mega-project, actually – to celebrate the upcoming one-year anniversary (on March 30th) of The Last Whale, the final Rheostatics concert. I don’t know Darin personally, just via his intermittent postings to the Yahoo! mailing list dedicated to the Rheostatics and through his site dedicated to the band; He must be quite a fan, though, because he’s pored through hours and hours of recorded material in an effort to put together a “box set” of CDs functioning as a retrospective look at the Rheos’ career. The Rheos were one of those (all too rare) bands that didn’t mind if you recorded their live shows, and there was a pretty active sharing/trading market among the many Sprouts, so Darin’s task was an enormous one encompassing perhaps hundreds of hours of recorded material of varying quality.

Anyway, Darin has released the most recent volume of the project he’s calling Static Journey (he’s up to Disc 4 of a 9 CD set) here. Volumes 1, 2 and 3 can be found here, here and here. The price is certainly within the range of affordability – all downloads are free of charge.

Meme First!

I have been tagged with a meme by Mike.* For those of you unfamiliar with the concept – I’m looking in your direction, Geez – it’s definition time:

The Blog Meme
A blog meme is a type of Internet meme that requires active participation by the blogger and rarely traces back to an originating source. It’s often a series of questions that a blogger answers to share some personal perspective or experience on random topics.

Source: Quixtar Blog.

Aside from using the word “meme” in defining the term “Blog Meme” that definition seems pretty good. So I’ve been asked to answer a series of questions, basically. Here they are:

a) What issues/topic interests you most–non-fiction, i.e, cooking, knitting, stitching, there are infinite topics that has nothing to do with novels?

Honestly, I have such a great deal of difficulty narrowing the list of my topical interests down to the point where I could accurately specify that some interests predominate over others. I guess it would be fair to say that my curiosity is more likely to be piqued by articles/books/films/websites that concern technology, politics, science, music or literature than it is by knitting or decoupage but, as may already be evident, one of my enduring problems in life has been that I am (too?) easily amused, fascinated and distracted by detailed information on virtually any topic. I generally find such information infinitely more fascinating when I have a great deal of (other) work to do and very little time in which to accomplish it. I think that I could easily be mesmerized by almost any written material on any topic, provided that it is well-written and brings the historical context and the technical detail.