2017/02/01

American unexceptionalism

The horror of the United States federal elections. The nasty aftermath. Not feeling like Christmas. The nervous lead-up to the inauguration. And the rapidly escalating seizure of power by the regime.

I'm a well-off white Canadian woman, in Canada. How could I be more privileged? But I am also American, born in the United States, the first 40 years of my life lived there. I was a sometime activist in the early 1970s, protesting against the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon and the erosion of freedoms and in favour of economic democracy and an end to nuclear power. In the 1980s I wrote punk songs about Ronald Reagan. I am steeped in the Constitution and the Enlightenment thinking for which it stands.

I care very much about the republic to the south and about liberal democracy in general.

As of this writing, there can be little doubt that there is a putsch in the works. With the executive orders so far they are only getting warmed up. Part of the strategy seems to be to start with things that many defend for a some plausible (on face) reason: security in the case of the Muslim Ban, religious freedom in the case of the delayed, but certainly not for long, "religious exemptions" to serving queer people. It seems they will likely retain this kind of deniability for a while. They're doing what they're doing for security or religious freedom or some other reason, not to seize power. But the seizure is underway nonetheless.

Those of us who care about American democracy, about the survival of the republic, about the rights and freedoms of its inhabitants are appalled, shocked, angry, and more about recent events. I am too. I'm trying to stay calm through the stress while also remaining alert and putting energy to good use and not burning out or being crushed.

But a thought occurred to me. We might claim we don't believe in American exceptionalism, a hallmark of the Right, but apparently we must. Otherwise, we wouldn't have thought it would be impossible for a putsch even to be attempted. We wouldn't have thought that the fundamentals of the American system were strong enough to withstand any attempts at abuse. We came through the Watergate crisis, and the good and decent won. We thought the movie always ended that way.

It might still end that way. We had better write the ending that way. But we should not think that this putsch, this attempted coup, is really that special. Some people live their entire lives under authoritarian rule. Many have lived through a coup d'état, or two, or more. Some have seen promising democracies slide into dictatorship.

There has never been a guarantee that any Western democracy would remain democratic and based on the rule of law. Any liberal democracy can slide into illiberal democracy and then into autocracy. Even entire civilizations can collapse.

We often see claims that love is stronger than hate. I have always held to this idea. I'm no longer confident that it's true. But the only way I can continue is by assuming it is true and acting accordingly. Failure is an option. Just not one I consider acceptable.

2017/01/02

A bit of life in the theatre

Sweetie and I finished off 2016 by getting rid of almost a quarter truck load of stuff. We own a detached house, with basement. When we have that kind of space, we tend to fill it up and not look too often. It had been a long time since we had gone through stuff. We were pretty ruthless this time, and we're still not done. It's an ongoing process.

There was an orphaned box sitting in the living room that I thought was all Sweetie's stuff, but she said some of it was mine. Today I dug into it. Almost all of it was stuff from my time in the theatre: some sheet music for musical auditions, and a whole lot of working scripts, in binders, stapled, and even one in a Manila envelope. It doesn't represent all of my theatrical experience, but it's a curious assemblage of material from various periods of my brief career.

One of the most fun things I did in Boston was work with a children's theatre company. I found two original scripts by Stan---whose last name I forget. He was a very talented writer of musical plays for children. One script is for Cinderella (very memorable), the other Beauty and the Beast (which I remember less well). I was also part of a tiny touring company that performed Stan's version of Rumpelstiltskin.

For a few years, I worked with a voice teacher who then became my acting teacher. She invited me and a few other people to be part of creating a staged version of Dylan Thomas's poem Under Milk Wood, which was quite an honour because I was not yet very experienced. The five of us played several parts, including narration. It was mostly a dramatic recitation, but the power was in the words. I learned to play "The Rambling Sailor" on the tin whistle for the opening and closing. We toured a bit and played some interesting settings. Working on this project was a personal high point.

Despite my complete lack of Irishness, I was in several Irish plays with different directors. Away Alone by Janet Noble was one of my favourites. It's the story of young Irish people who show up in New York City, interact with others who came before them, and continue the cycle of getting work, settling in, and then breaking in new arrivals.

Undiscovered Country by Arthur Schnitzler was the height of my acting career in Boston. I didn't really like the play, and I was only a minor character, almost an extra, but I was on the stage of the Huntington Theatre in the midst of a professional company. I learned a lot from this experience, including such handy advice as that I should quit smoking lest I end up with wrinkles like the lead actor had.

I found a binder that contained The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerantz, which I believe was my last theatrical experience in Boston. For that one I was assistant director and stage manager. Every night, I ran the lights and sound. Every night I watched a gifted actor embody John Merrick and break my heart. If you've only ever seen the David Lynch film, you should seek out a good production of the play.

A Kind of Alaska, a one-act play by Harold Pinter, was the only theatre I did in Vancouver. My focus was on film and television. I didn't work well with the director, and it was not the happiest theatre experience. But every experience is one to remember.

There were some mysteries in the box. I found part of a script of Scenes from a Marriage by Ingmar Bergman. I have no idea why I have that. Maybe it came from a scene study class, which I did for a few years in Vancouver. I also found a play called Tide by Aidan Parkinson which is only vaguely familiar. My guess is that I participated in a reading.

I don't look back very often, but I will hang onto these scripts, at least for a while. There is plenty more in this house to clean up. Best for 2017. Stay vigilant!

2016/12/21

Music to get through 2016 to

Back once again with my random sampling of music that came out in 2016. I bought most of this from emusic.com, and probably at least once directly from the artist via Bandcamp, so clearly it skews indie. I used the same evaluation technique as last year: listen to the albums from start to finish (at least twice) and listen to individual tracks in random order on my phone.

Sad13 - Slugger

I only just bought this, but I've listened several times, and I think it's my favourite of the year. Sad13 is Sadie (get it?) Dupuis, leader of Speedy Ortiz, and this is her first full solo release. Slugger is Sadie's great lyrics over different beats, from trip-hop to punk. It picks up where Speedy's "Raising the Skate" left off, with a strong current of feminism and just plain independent thinking. Keep your eye on this woman! Highlights: "<2"; "Get a Yes"; "Devil in U"; "Line Up" (so Lennon-esque, and not just because of the "Birthday" melodic quote); "Tell U What"; "Krampus (In Love)"; "Hype."



The Pack a.d. - Positive Thinking

After coming through some unspecified difficulties, the Pack have returned with yet another great album that deserves way more notice and respect than it will probably get. The band reaches back to their blues origins and incorporates the psychedelia of the past couple of records as well as going for bold new sounds. Highlights: "So What"; "Yes, I Know"; "Anyway"; "Los Angeles"; "Skin Me."



White Lung - Paradise

A breakthrough album for White Lung, or at least it should be. The playing is furious from Kenneth Williams on guitar and Anne-Marie Vassiliou on drums (she should be on "top drummers" lists). Mish Barber-Way is no less ferocious on vocals, as always. But the songs are among the best that the band have recorded and add melody to the mix in a way that White Lung have not done before. Highlights: "Below" and "Hungry" are huge in a whole new way; "Kiss Me When I Bleed," "I Beg You," and "Paradise" are very good. Really, 27 great minutes.



The Julie Ruin - Hit Reset

I liked Run Fast, the previous record from Kathleen Hanna's electronic punk band the Julie Ruin. I really like this record. Great songs, band sounding strong. What feels like genuine punk edge injected into the melodies. Highlights: "Hit Reset"; "I Decide"; "Mr. So and So"; "Record Breaker"; "I'm Done"; "Calverton," a sad song. I danced a lot to this record, as I did when I saw the band live this past year.



Garbage - Strange Little Birds

I've never followed Garbage beyond appreciating their singles. I always thought of them as better than the usual radio fare but not really that alternative. But maybe I'll have to work backwards through their catalogue, because this is a strong, engaging, and refreshingly dark album. Highlights: "Empty"; "Night Drive Loneliness"; "Even Though Our Love Is Doomed"; "Magnetized"; "So We Can Stay Alive."



Tacocat - Lost Time

I loved NVM. This album is growing on me and shows the band growing as well. Highlights: "Dana Katherine Scully" (try not to sing along with the chorus); "FDP"; "I Love Seattle"; "I Hate the Weekend"; and the surprisingly different "Horse Grrls." "Talk" is another interesting track that's different for Tacocat. Bummed I haven't see this band live yet (almost did but they had border problems).



Honeyblood - Babes Never Die

I learned about Honeyblood from one of my favourite bands, PINS. Enjoyable indie pop from a Scottish duo. Big, shiny production, much less "lo fi" than their previous record. They write killer chorus hooks! Highlights: "Babes Never Die"; "Ready for the Magic"; "Sea Hearts"; "Walking at Midnight"; "Sister Wolf"; "Hey, Stellar."



Beverly - The Blue Swell

Drew Clinton and Frankie Rose apparently had creative differences, and Rose left. But Clinton is back with a strong album of indie dream pop. Highlights: "Crooked Cop"; "Victoria"; "South Collins"; "Contact."



That's only eight, but there's nothing magic about 10.

Well, maybe nine. I'm not sure. I've listened to Tanya Tagaq's Retribution a couple of times. It's challenging for sure. It's more a soundscape with music than a musical work. "Cold" stood out for me on first listen. It's interesting in the context of other songs in the random mix. I want to listen more.

I had not listened to Bob Mould in a few albums, but I decided to try his new release Patch the Sky. Some sounds like his earlier solo work. Some sounds like Hüsker Dü. It sounds fine, but it's not the sound of a musician growing.

Head Carrier from the Pixies is certainly better than Indie Cindy. New-ish bass player and vocalist Paz Lenchantin seems to have integrated well. The playing is strong. But it's a bit like Season 3 Star Trek (TOS)—new episodes, which was better than none, but no longer the glory days.

Instead of indie 1960s pop, Bleached have moved to the 1970s with Welcome the Worms. Very Joan Jett. Sometimes it's so much like 70s hard rock that it feels like a parody. The songs are hooky, and they do this stuff well, but it's not thrilling me.

Skeleton Tree is the first Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album I have ever bought. As an indie snob, I'm supposed to be into Nick Cave. I guess you either like that kind of half-spoken, marginally melodic baritone or you don't. I like the feel of this album. It's dark, slow, and moody, with songs mostly written before Cave's son died but changed because of that in the recording process. But I'm still not a Nick Cave fan.

La Sera bummed me out with Music for Listening to Music To. What started as Katy Goodman's post-Vivian Girls solo project is now more a collaboration between Goodman and her husband and guitarist Todd Wisenbaker. They teamed up with Ryan Adams and created a country-flavoured indie pop album. It's fine. It doesn't get me off.

Given that I haven't even bought the latest PJ Harvey album, clearly I need to do some non-emusic shopping.

2016/11/11

Music for life

I'm a musician. That's a fundamental aspect of me. I tried being not-a-musician, but it made me unhappy. I realized that I love making music more than anything else, and that it is my primary source of joy. Especially at my age, I'm not going to live without that.

I'm also a songwriter. Even when I was trying to be not-a-musician, the songwriter kept popping out, making me scribble lyric ideas in notebooks or on scraps of paper.

Being a musician and songwriter, I make records. Not vinyl records, although I have in the past. More in the sense of snapshots of a set of songs at a particular time. In August and September I recorded four songs. I just received the approved masters. Three songs are available on Soundcloud. The song that is somewhat of an outlier is for later.

As well as being a musician and songwriter, I am also a performer. I have been performing on stage (mostly as a singer-musician but for several years in theatre) since I was about 17 years old. These days, public performance for profit, or even for free, is not easy to come by. I am very unfamiliar with the scene in the Lower Mainland for solo performers. There are some clubs. There are pop-up venues and house concerts. There are festivals. Obviously I must get a lot more familiar with the ins and outs if I hope to play anywhere.

Even if I never played for anyone but myself (and Sweetie, who can't help but hear), I imagine I would continue to write songs, simply because I haven't managed to turn them off when they want to be written. I can't get my brain to stop turning life into song lyrics.

But because a huge part of why I make music is that I need to communicate, to reach out to people, I do crave listeners. I'm long past dreaming of fame and fortune, but I'm pretty sure even the most confident artist needs a certain amount of affirmation from viewers, listeners, participators. Even negative feedback is better than indifference.

So, the record. At this point it's called, with much flair, Demo 2016. It's far from perfect, but I'm proud of this record of my performance of the songs. To anyone who at least gives a listen, thank you. Maybe I'll get to play for you live.

2016/10/25

On impact

A week and a half ago while I was driving home from an appointment, I was involved in a collision with an SUV. No one was hurt. The damage to the passenger side of the Subaru did not look terrible. I was able to drive the car home. I opened a claim with ICBC (the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, our public motor vehicle insurer). Armed with a claim number, I drove the car to the body shop down the hill. I figured all would be set right soon.

A couple of days later, I got another call from ICBC. There was more damage to the car than it was officially worth, so they declared it totalled. I did not argue, since what had seemed to be surface damage actually included frame damage as well. Once the frame of a vehicle is bent, it will never be right again. As well, the car is, or was, a 2002 model. As invaluable as the car was to us and despite fairly low mileage, it had little market value.

If you're going to crash your car, do it when it's still worth fixing.

For the nonce, we are car-free. Neither of us commutes by car. Non-driver Sweetie works two days a week a short bus ride from the house. I work out of my home office. She has a monthly transit pass because she rides frequently in addition to her commute. I use transit less but still quite a lot, especially to go into Vancouver. Our main use for a private vehicle was to go shopping on Saturday, which might involve stops at any of a pet store, a farmers market, our co-op for groceries, a seafood shop, and an Italian deli. We would also occasionally use the car at other times, including to go into Vancouver when there was a compelling reason to do so (dressed fancy, coming home very late, etc.). And once in a while, we would take a road trip.

Being without a car had an impact on last weekend, as expected. On Saturday morning I made a trip to the final Trout Lake Farmers Market of the season. In the afternoon I made a very long trip to get cat food (a brand not available in most stores) and to make one other stop. It was not the most efficient trip—bus-SkyTrain-bus to get to the pet store; bus-bus to get to the next stop; and finally bus-SkyTrain-bus to get home—but connections were pretty good, and it took less time than I expected. Each trip cost me two one-zone (because weekend) fares ($2.10 with Compass card), so C$4.20 for each round trip. On Sunday I went to the co-op and the fish market. That trip also cost C$4.20.

I'm glad to know that it's possible for me to do all the things I need to do on transit, given plenty of time and the ability (and willingness) to haul heavy loads. It is unlikely to remain practical. In two weeks the winter farmers market will be at Nat Bailey Stadium—accessible by transit, but a long ride plus walk (there is also a Sunday winter market at Hastings Park, but many of the vendors I need aren't there). The farmers market trip would be fine in good weather, but add rain or cold or both and it's a different story. And even though I can carry a lot of weight, I have only two shoulders for bags, and taking more than two bags on transit is difficult anyway.

As well, even though I'm a tough old broad and pretty strong, I'm getting neither younger nor stronger. I was proud of myself for doing all the hauling this past weekend, but my body was pretty worn out later, and my left knee threatened to go on strike a few times while I was out walking.

And here's the kicker: if I somehow were to get a gig, I would need a car to get to it. Or a much smaller guitar amp.

Joining a car co-op would have been our first choice. It's expensive to buy, maintain, and insure a vehicle, especially for the little that we use one. Sadly, ICBC ruled that I was at fault in the collision. I can't approach the co-op unless I have two years free of at-fault claims. I have to earn my way back into the good graces of the driving world.

That leaves us with three options: remain car free, buy a used car, or buy a new car. For all the reasons above, the first option is good only for the short term. That leaves buying a new or used vehicle, with both require money up front and ongoing costs.

If we buy a new car, at least it can now be an electric vehicle (EV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), or hybrid electric vehicle (HEV). Our all-wheel-drive Subaru was awesome on curves but was not particularly fuel efficient, even for highway driving. EVs, PHEVs, and HEVs available in Canada are all expensive, but if we're going to buy new, it has to be tomorrow's car, not yesterday's. Either that or we buy an older car and then have to go through the same exercise in a few years.

Meanwhile, even though using transit takes extra time and effort, I'm enjoying my liberation from driving. I get to read or check my phone or even observe my surroundings while being taken to my destination. I do more walking by covering distances on foot that are too short to bother waiting for a bus (I'd rather move than wait). I realize that I am fortunate in not having to use transit during peak periods. I have done so in the past, and I know that rush hour trains and buses are only more crowded now than they were then.

I also appreciate not having to drive because at this point I'm still feeling the effects of trauma. That surprised me, but shouldn't have. Even though the collision was minor (except to the vehicles), the scenario plays itself over and over in my head. I see and feel the other car closing in on me, me trying to get out of its way, and the bump of the hit. My brain wants to undo what happened. But that's not how time works. We live with our mistakes until we can let them go.

So I'm feeling chastised and wobbly. I get to deal with both trauma effect and shame! Being a conscientious and careful driver is something I was proud of. I will overcome this. Whenever I get back in the saddle, I will be even more conscientious and careful. But I'm not there yet. So I shall try to enjoy my car holiday.

2016/09/20

Studio nerd

I'm sure there are bands that go into a recording studio and just bang out their songs, leaving all the technical aspects to others. But I think for most musicians a recording studio is a magical place. Some serious wizardry happens in studios! I find it more fun to immerse myself in the magic than just to be a player and singer. I don't know nearly as much as some, but I'm learning.

And this time was different than previous studio sessions. I've spent lots of time in recording studios where it was only an engineer and me. That's usually how it has for mixdowns. I don't remember any band members being particularly interested in those. And sometimes, being the guitarist, harmony singer, and occasional percussionist, I would go in by myself for overdubs. But these three sessions were the first I ever did both by myself and for myself.

The object was really to create a demo—decent recordings of a few songs that I can link to when I try to get someone to hire me. But I aimed for a bit more than that. I wanted the tracks to sound pretty much like they do when I play them live, but I also wanted to fill them out a little.

I took four songs in. I was well prepared. I had been practising with a metronome to get used to playing with a click track. All of the song tempos were where they sounded best to me.

At the same time, I knew that I didn't have to have everything planned in advance. I wanted results within two sessions, more realistically three, but this being my first experience as the sole creator of the music (engineering is also a creative process), I also wanted to give myself time to relax, be happy (and not just okay) with takes, and maybe even to come up with new things.

The first session was about guitar and vocals. I recorded bed tracks—just a guitar, in this case—for each of the songs I had planned to record. Something about the fourth song didn't feel right when I was playing it, and playback confirmed it. It wasn't right. It didn't feel like it should be in a set with the other three. More surprising, it didn't feel like V. Diz. I had not suspected that before, but I was sure of it now. I abandoned that track, got inspired, and played another song from my list. And I realized that was the one I wanted to record. Which I did. At the end of day one, I had guitar tracks and most vocals for "Drive By," "Normal Day," "If We Pretend," and "Hunting Season"—the new song, which is actually an old song, which is another story.

After listening to the rough mixes for a week, I had a plan for the second session. Some things went right. I nailed a vocal section that had given me trouble at the end of day one. I played more guitar parts. I might have subtracted a track or two of guitar from the previous session. And then the engineer and I set to mixing. Initial setup takes a bit of time. Fortunately, the setup provides a starting point for the subsequent tracks. We got a possible keeper mix of "Drive By" and a mix of "Normal Day" that I knew had been done too hastily and would need more work.

Listening to the two mixes confirmed that at least "Normal Day" needed work. I had several weeks to listen and consider and come up with ideas. One idea was for percussion. In session two I had intended to play djembe (African hand drum) on a couple of songs but I had forgotten to bring it. Just as well! I needed a lot of practice. I'm happy to say that I have gone from being a djembe dabbler to actually playing the djembe—perhaps not in a traditional way, but mostly in rhythm.

So for session three, I started with the drum. I did a couple of takes for "If We Pretend" and a couple more for "Hunting Season." And then it was time to do the serious mixing.

We put "Drive By" aside as potentially being a keeper and started with "If We Pretend," because it's very simple, not even a second guitar, just one guitar, djembe, and vocal. I ended up putting the vocal well in front of the instruments. That's a scary thing for me, but it sounded better that way because the song is a story. At least I'm reasonably happy with the singing.

We changed a few things before getting the sound I was looking for on "Normal Day." I wanted to go psychedelic on it, because I have psych in my blood from way back. Swirly guitar, fuzz guitar, processed vocal.

On "Hunting Season" I decided to drop the djembe from the beginning of the song and have it start at the chorus and continue to the end. I think it's more effective that way. And you can blame me for the echo on the chorus vocal. Totally my idea.

Finally we went back to "Drive By." I wanted more of a sound change on the bridge. So we put a chorus effect on the guitar (I play it live through my flanger) and ran the overlapping vocal tracks through software that emulates a Leslie speaker. More psychedelia! I guess I indulged myself, but hopefully it sounds good to others as well.

None of the tracks has been mastered, a step that involves matching volume levels among songs, sometimes changing equalization or compression, and making sure that the songs sound like they belong together. I need to book that. But it's been so long since I had any recorded output other than my home recordings that I have to preview, at least. So here is the debut of "Normal Day" (premaster):


2016/08/19

Human-world

In the beginning, according to a sacred text, woman came from man, formed using a rib taken from his side.

And thereafter man continued to form woman, not in his own image and likeness but in the image and likeness of his fantasy mate. And he declared himself to be her superior.

And all was well for woman as long as she fulfilled what man wanted. But woe upon her when she failed to do so, in myriad large and small ways.

And man imposed his will on women and indeed the entire world for tens of thousands of years. But finally, woman realized the injustice and stupidity of this system and decided to demand and create change.

The idea that the world should be human-world, not man-world, sent man's heads (big and little) into a spin and caused him to cling even more desperately to man-world.

But man-world is so last millennium (and several before). Human-world has already begun, and will become stronger and stronger until man-world is but an historical memory.

Because really, everyone should get to live in human-world.