2016/01/12

We can be hero-worshippers just for one day

I was in high school when David Bowie burst onto the scene. I don't remember if I heard the earliest songs, such as "Space Oddity," but I do remember Ziggy Stardust, at the leading edge of glam rock. At the time, I was very much into British bands that had a certain amount of rock and roll flair, something to set a stage performance apart from ordinary life, and I was lamenting that everything around me had gone Allman Brothers and denim and, for me anyway, boring. I remember the first concert I attended at university. Argent opened for local favourite the James Montgomery Band. I was there to see Argent (who, admittedly, were rather pretentious, and certainly out of place in that venue). Everyone around me hated them, preferring blues and boogie and songs with long, drawn-out endings.

So yes, awkward weirdo in high school, still awkward and weird at university, out of sync, listening to Yes and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and Jethro Tull. I should have latched onto David Bowie, no? So many people have written about how Ziggy let them feel that being weird was okay. Bowie was liberating for them. But for me, weird and awkward and not wild, Ziggy was intimidating. Even though that whole movement started by outraging people and breaking all the rules, they were soon impossibly cool. Bowie couldn't be a role model, because I was never, ever going to be that cool, not in my wildest dreams.

At university, I was in an isolated dorm off campus (housing problem), surrounded by a certain kind of people. Rather than seeking out others like me, I became like them, as I have done too often in life. By spring of 1973, I was actually in the front row at a Loggins and Messina show at the Orpheum Theater (one of the shows that was used for the On Stage live album) and shortly thereafter was tripping my brains out to the Grateful Dead at Boston Garden. The hippie shit won out for a while.

The summer of 1974 was the last time I went home for any extended time. I was working the night shift at an all-night grocery story. We had one of those Muzak® receivers, piped into speakers all over the store. The night supervisor figured out that the cable that delivered Muzak® also had other radio signals on it. So he worked out a way to connect the cable to a radio, and thus we were able to listen all night to WPLU in New Haven (sister station to the better-known WPLJ in New York). Real rock had largely given way to California mellowness by then. But one song that stood out among the R&B and country- and pop-flavoured stuff that WPLU played was "Diamond Dogs." Woot! That was my speed. And of course "Rebel Rebel" was on that album as well, one of the greatest rock songs of all time. But I saw the album cover, and it was just so weird. So once again, it was great music, but it felt unapproachable.

I lost track of Bowie when he ditched glam and rock, which were never really what he loved anyway. I'm sure I heard songs from the period, certainly "Heroes," another of the greatest rock songs ever, but songs like "Young Americans" and "Golden Years" weren't really my thing. I was getting back into rock via punk and then new wave. When I finally started to overcome my awkwardness, Bowie as role model seemed kind of old and classic. I was too busy getting my mind blown by Pretenders and the Clash and Talking Heads to pay much attention to the Thin White Duke.

My next real encounter was via MTV. I loved the "Ashes to Ashes" video! It was so wonderfully disturbing. And shortly after I was spending a lot of time at a Boston dance club where I shook my booty to "Let's Dance" and "Modern Love." For anyone who hadn't stuck with Bowie through the Berlin years, this was pretty much a revival.

But then I lost track of Bowie again. I have never seen Labyrinth! I don't remember any of his material from the mid- to late 1980s, nor from the 1990s. By the time The Next Day came along, I didn't really care. I watched the videos. I was not nearly as impressed as many others. I've only scratched the surface of Black Star, but I will say that Bowie succeeded in disturbing me with a video once again. "Lazarus" is some scary shit!

Still, when I saw that David Bowie had left us, it hit hard. I don't tear up over too many celebrity deaths, but I did for this one. Bowie is one of the most significant influences on music specifically and on culture in general. He made an impact that is still felt far and wide. A world sans Bowie feels wrong. And it felt wrong that he was taken away so young, and for those of us outside his family, so suddenly.

But as is often the case, I am not quite in sync with the majority of mourners. Musically, Bowie was not my main man. I never saw him in concert. I don't even own any of his albums. I love individual songs, several of which I mentioned (and let's not forget "The Jean Genie," "Suffragette," and "Changes"). I think he was an excellent songwriter, but he's not my favourite. I'm glad he was so creative in a way that must have been satisfying to him right up until his death, but I probably won't buy Black Star (although never say never).

Sometimes I get a bit star-struck when I meet a musician or other artist I admire, but I'm not much of a hero-worshipper. We can be heroes, for one day or many days. It's a daunting task, for sure. When I look at Bowie's body of work and the influence he had and will continue to have, sometimes I just want to down tools and stop even trying. I will still never be as cool as David Bowie. My songs sound pitiful to me next to his. But then, they sound pitiful to me next to those of any great songwriter. And at least some of those songwriters probably felt the same way about someone who had gone before them. If artists got overwhelmed by other artists, they would never produce their own art, and we would be the poorer for that.

So I will admire Bowie and mourn his loss, a loss to all of us, but I will hold back on the hyperbole. I will do my best not to be intimidated. Because someone else might think my art is worth liking and admiring. And even if no one does, I have to make it anyway, for my own sake. Bowie earned huge success, but I have read that he felt the same way. He did what he had to do. He was fortunate to connect with a great many people, but ultimately he did it for himself.

We shall never look upon his like again. But perhaps, at least to some degree because of him, we shall look upon others.

2016/01/06

The vinyl frontier

Deities help us, we have a turntable set up again, for the first time in longer than I can remember. We have started to listen to the two crates' worth of records that we didn't sell before we left Boston more than 20 years ago, armed with a stack of CDs. No dancing in the living room when a record is playing! This is an old house.

I've been critical of the resurgence of vinyl for a number of reasons. Vinyl records are easily damaged. Every time you play a record, the reproduction quality goes down. You can't run a weighted diamond stylus through jagged plastic grooves without molecules flying off. That's just physics. And to get the best sound quality, you need some seriously good equipment: a quiet, leveled turntable running at exact speed, a well-damped tonearm with optimum balance, and a stylus that is not worn. If the record warps, you're toast. A skip is forever.

Let's not even get into the weirdness of the RIAA rolloff or the physics of playing inner grooves versus outer. Given all the factors, I find it even more amazing that it's possible to get such fidelity out of this system than it is to believe that music can be reduced to bits and then turned into music again (which is also weird).

Still, it's not the inferiority of the medium that I have objected to most strongly. It's the fact that the new vinyl you're buying is unlikely to give you the full analog experience that you get from an old record.

Back in the day, no part of the process of making records involved sampling voltage levels and encoding them as bits. Music was recorded on analog tape. Effects were analog. The mastering process was analog. The entire process involved some form of waves, not zeros and ones. Even in the early days of CDs, the steps before CD manufacture were analog. You can see the letters "AAD" on old CDs, meaning that the recording and mastering were analog and only the process of encoding onto CDs was digital. Little by little, analog slipped away, first from the mastering stage (ADD) and then finally from the entire process (DDD).

Nowadays, if you have enough money, you can still record on analog tape. You can even do analog mastering, if you can find a mastering studio set up for it. But unless you're super careful, you will likely be using digital effects during recording. Some part of the signal will have been turned into zeros and ones before being reconverted for recording on analog tape. ProTools and other effects software are ubiquitous, doing their best to emulate the analog reverb, compression, and other effects they replaced.

Most bands can't afford to record on tape. It's not only expensive; it's hard to do, and thus time-consuming. In the old days, if you screwed up a note, you could "punch in" a new one, if it wasn't too close to notes you wanted to keep, but that's about it. Otherwise, you recorded another take, and maybe several more. You couldn't correct the myriad mistakes that are routinely corrected now, such as imprecise rhythms. Digital recording and effects are the devil's toolkit, but if you're willing to sell your soul, your band can sound better than it has any right to sound.

This means that when bands press vinyl, and buyers think they are hearing analog sound like on old records, they're wrong. They're hearing a digital bit stream converted to analog one step earlier in the process, at the turntable rather than the amplifier and speakers. They're hearing a certain amount of analog "warmth," to be sure, but not the same way as they would if they were to listen to all-analog recordings. Really it's like a CD with pops and scratches. Even reissued older recordings are often remastered, and that remastering is usually digital. Vinyl lovers seem not to realize that at least some of what they are appreciating is high-quality digital sound.

But actual all-analog vintage records, we got 'em! And I definitely understand the appeal of taking out a record (nice weight), carefully putting it on the turntable, and listening to the results, possibly while checking out the full-size artwork or lyrics you can actually read (and possibly using that double-album gate-fold for other purposes). We'll listen to a whole album all the way through, the way it was intended to be listened to. Even turning the record over is part of the pleasure, unless you're having trouble getting off your couch.

I get it. The satisfaction of playing our old records isn't just that we haven't heard them since forever. It's the return of the record playing ritual, something you can't get from CDs and certainly not from MP3s (nor, really, from cassettes). For kids, it's something new and exciting. For altekakers like me, it's old and exciting.

New records? Still problematic. And I could not care less about things like coloured vinyl. I have never treated records as collectible items. I bought them to play. And sometimes that meant they got very scratchy indeed. But every pop and scratch is familiar, like an old friend. Yesterday, I was listening to some new music using my computer and headphones, and all I wanted to do was to put a record on downstairs and let music fill the house.

(Apologies to my dear friend Mackie for nicking the name of his old band for the title of this post.)

2015/12/06

Quitting while you're ahead

In the book Don't All Thank Me at Once: The Lost Pop Genius of Scott Miller, Brett Milano tells the story of Scott Miller, leader of the bands Game Theory and the Loud Family. Have you heard of them? If not, that's not surprising. One of the main points of the book was how Miller never became as well known as many of his contemporaries. Miller wrote great songs and, like many talented musicians, deserved to be famous, or at least better known than he was.

I was strongly affected by reading the book. I felt that I understood a lot of what Miller went through and what I perceived to be his thought process. I feel the same way as he did about music, have always sought people who were as passionate as I am, and have never found them. I understand his bafflement that others can't see how wonderful it is to make great music and that it's worth the effort to try to have that music heard more widely and indeed to make a living at it. I also understand writing songs that come out of real experiences, songs that are sometimes cutting, sometimes even cruel, or at least seem so. Writing songs, good, bad, and ugly, is that way songwriters deal with their lives.

Scott Miller ended his own life in 2013. As much as I related to his story, I am not him. But the similarities are striking, similarities that include thoughts of suicide. That is want I want to deal with here. You have been warned.

Miller's suicide stunned everyone, including his wife. Those close to him knew that he had lived with depression for a long time, but no one anticipated him making an early exit, especially at a time that he seemed to be doing well and to have plans for a new recording.

I have read that people don't commit suicide when they are in the depths of depression. That makes sense. Taking your own life requires energy, and you don't have any when you're at the bottom. I have also read that the time when depressive people commit suicide is when they have just come out of a hole, when enough energy has returned. They said that about Kurt Cobain.

Maybe it's true for some. But I have a different idea.

Be aware that while I do have thoughts about ending my life, I have never gone so far as to make an actual plan. Even much of my thinking about it is more along the lines of "maybe everyone around me would be better off if I were gone" or "I'm making so little difference, what's the point?" That's not even close to a plan. I have managed to muddle along thus far in my life and imagine that I will continue to do so.

Still, there are times, more than I would like, when thoughts about shuffling off this mortal coil are strong. Certainly that's not when I'm in a serious, draining funk. But for me, at least, it's not when I'm coming out of a funk either. When that happens, I feel hopeful. Even a tiny bit better is welcome and keeps me going. No, the times when the thoughts are strongest is when you might think suicide to be the least likely: when things are going well and I'm feeling very good.

How can that make sense? Why would I think about suicide when things are good and I'm doing well? It's called going out at the top. I hate depression. I hate the lows. I hate the lack of energy. I hate the sadness. I struggle against it. I don't do suffering very well. So when I'm feeling good, I don't want it to end. I don't want to go back into the deep. I want to die happy.

From what I know, Kurt Cobain was actually in a pretty good place just before he left us. He had his troubles with his wife Courtney Love, but that was ongoing. He dearly loved his daughter Frances Bean and loved being a father. As is the case with many men, being a father gave his life a purpose that fulfilled him in a different way than music. Maybe he was afraid of losing that. By committing suicide, of course he did lose it. But he wasn't around to know.

Is that similar to what happened with Scott Miller? We might never know. If his wife Kristine knows, she's not telling, and that must be respected. But maybe it was precisely because his life was at a pretty good point. He was married to a women he loved and who loved him, and they had two daughters whom he adored. He was a good father. He had a good life. He still had a fanatical cult following, and he was planning a new project. Did it all seem too fragile to him? Was he afraid that things would go bad again? Did he want to nip a decline in the bud?

I don't know. But I can't imagine that I am the only person who gets stronger suicidal thoughts when things are good because of fear that the good won't last.

2015/12/04

My musical 2015: an embarrassment of riches

I'm not a music reviewer. I'm just a musician who loves music, both a music maker and a music fan. Some music touches me deeply, resonates with my body, fills me with emotion or intellectual appreciation or both. Some does not do any of that. That's pretty much how I evaluate albums.

These are the albums released in 2015 that I bought (or, in one case, was given—thanks!). I listened to each album as a whole, at least a few times. I also put the songs on my phone with shuffle play on so I could listen to individual tracks on car trips. That way I heard songs out of their context, which is a different experience. Sometimes it made me realize there were more good songs on an album than I had realized. Sometimes I found myself skipping tracks in the car that I enjoyed when listening to the album.

As always, this is nowhere near the number of albums, possibly significant ones, that came out this year. But you don't need me to review Adele's 25, right? My taste skews toward indie rock—with guitars—but I expanded my horizons a bit this year (helped by Jessica Hopper, a live show, my former choir and, believe it or not, So You Think You Can Dance). Sweetie says I need some male artists, but I'm just not feeling male vocals these days, although I would like to check out more of Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly, which sits atop several "best of" lists.

If anyone thinks there is no good music coming out now, they aren't looking very hard. 2015 was a banner year.

PINS - Wild Nights


This might be the best album to come out this year. Or maybe not. But it's definitely the one that I love to listen to the most, that makes me feel good, that resonates with my own musician self more than any other. That's what PINS have done for me from the start, and even more with Wild Nights, their second full-length, on which they have taken their psychedelic pop rock to a new level. I love the beauty of wonderfully blended guitars, bass, keyboards, and drums. I love the individual musicianship and the ensemble playing. I love the sound of musicians playing in an actual room, with drums sounding great but also very real. I am impressed with the drum recording but even more with the drumming. I love the songs—really all of them, but maybe especially, "Young Girls," "Curse These Dreams," "Too Little Too Late," and "Molly." I love the songs individually (in my car) but even more in the context of the album. I call this album an absolute gem, and I bet PINS have much more to show us.

Seeing PINS live for the second time just added to the enjoyment. Even when the room is nowhere near full (as by all rights it ought to be), these women put on an energetic, fun, spontaneous show. And they are friendly and personable and good for a chat after a set. What more could a fan ask for?

Wax Idols - American Tragic


I have been a fan of Wax Idols since their first album of reverbed punk pop that shone with great songs. Each subsequent album has challenged me, made me decide whether I was going to go along with the musical shift or not. With American Tragic, I'm definitely on board. With each listen, I'm more impressed with just how powerful and assured a record this is. Leader Hether Fortune has dramatized her marriage and subsequent divorce into a nine-song personal journey. The early releases "Lonely You," "I'm Not Going," and "Deborah" are all stand-outs. "Severely Yours" grabs me at least as hard, as do the lead-off song "A Violent Transgression" and the closer "Seraph." I'm not going to get all stalky about lyrics talking to me, but lines like "I am punished for my dreams" and "I'd do anything, anything for love" go straight to my soul. And I really admire the cheek of a songwriter lifting one of the most famous Bob Dylan lines ever, not to mention the cheek of an indie performer creating an album this big, this accessible, this potentially commercial. In a just world, Wax Idols songs would be all over the radio.

When I heard Wax Idols were finally on a tour that would take them as far as Seattle but not Vancouver, there was no way I was going to miss that, damn the distance and expense. The show (and getting to chat with Hether, who was delightful) was impassioned, well worth the effort to get there.

Speedy Ortiz - Foil Deer


I discovered Speedy Ortiz through She Shreds, the awesome magazine and website for female guitarists and bassists. No sooner had I become enamoured of the twists and turns of their debut album Major Arcana when they released Foil Deer, their killer follow-up. This is the first album on my list that shows up on pretty much every other list as well, and deservedly so. I marvel at how singer-guitarist Sadie Dupuis comes up with these weird chord patterns that nonetheless end up melodic in a strange but pleasing way. She is also one of those lyric writers with an extensive vocabulary and ability to put words together in arresting ways. She and her band (with new guitarist Devin McKnight) create a great musical ensemble. As I read in one review, the guitars and bass seem like they shouldn't even fit together, and yet they do, wonderfully. "Raising the Skate" and "The Graduates" are obvious stand-out songs, but "My Dead Girl" and "Puffer" get very stuck in my head.

When Sweetie and I saw Speedy in Vancouver last spring, Sadie and bass player Darl Fern were hanging out before their set, watching the band that played before. It was nice to say hi and chat a little. She's shy, so I appreciate that she even hangs out.

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit


Courtney Barnett makes some of the most refreshing sounds to come out of my speakers/headphones in a long time. She's a rock musician! A guitarist with a great (and hairy) rhythm section! There are so many great songs on this album. I love Barnett's lyrics, her way of observing, her storytelling. "Elevator Operator" and "Pedestrian At Best" are killer opening songs. "Dead Fox," "Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go to the Party," "Debbie Downer" are all great. "Depreston" makes my cry. And I hope I get to see her play live before too long. From videos I've seen, she plays with passion and fire, and I love that.

Kathryn Calder - Kathryn Calder


The band in which Kathryn Calder sings and plays, The New Pornographers, were short-listed for this year's Polaris Prize. This album, her third solo record, was not even long-listed. What a miss! There are some absolutely killer songs here. I started to list the ones that I love especially, but I was listing them all, so I stopped. "If You See My Blood" is particularly powerful. "Song in Cm" and "Arm in Arm" are two more favourites among favourites. Calder is a gifted lyricist and composer who always touches my heart and sometimes breaks it—in the way that music should.

La Luz - Weirdo Shrine


An homage to the Fender Twin Reverb amplifier, full of reverb (of course) and that beautiful tremolo. Also, real music made by a real band, a band that survived a terrible vehicle crash. I don't know if it made them stronger, but this is a really strong album. I also don't know how fancy La Luz got in the studio, but this music sounds basically live. And as much as I can appreciate studio craftsmanship, that's fine by me. I even love the amp buzz at the beginning of tracks, because it's real. This album starts quietly and explodes. The guitar solo on "You Disappear" is fierce! So many other great tracks as well.

Shana Cleveland & the Sandcastles - Oh Man, Cover the Ground


And now for something completely different—and yet by the same Shana Cleveland who is the guitarist and singer for La Luz. Oh Man, Cover the Ground was released earlier in the year and features her excellent acoustic guitar playing and singing. The songs sound like Americana folk songs, but they are her own creation. "Butter and Eggs," "Holy Rollers," "Itching Around" are all outstanding among other beautiful songs.

Chastity Belt - Time to Go Home


For a band that started as a joke—because they wanted to have a band called Chastity Belt—they sure aren't a joke anymore. This is a collection not only of great songs but of songs that say something about what it's like to be a 20-something woman in today's world. Sometimes they get carried away with their jams (I like "On the Floor" but the decelerating ending feels a bit much), but I do admire the audacity of musicians who dare to push themselves instrumentally. And what is rock if not audacious?

We could have seen them play live if we had squeezed going to the show into a day that was already too full when we were pretty knackered. I wish we had!

Florence + The Machine - How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful


Right from the start, you can hear this is a different Florence + The Machine album than the previous two. More of that gorgeous, expressive voice, less bombast. Better songs. Still big production, but harder, edgier. Standout songs include "Ship to Wreck," "What Kind of Man," "Queen of Peace," "Caught." I got a bit weary of Ceremonials except for the hits, but I think this one will stay with me.

Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color


I was late discovering Alabama Shakes, but I'm glad I finally did. Brittany Howard's voice alone would be enough to win me over, but we also have a great band. Sometimes I think the performances are better than the songs, and I could do without the glossy production on this album—I think it works better when we hear more of the band. I love how the album starts with the quiet "Sound and Color" and then Howard comes in with that unearthly sound that sends shivers up your spine, and "Don't Wanna Fight" kicks in. "Shoegaze" is another highlight. Most of the songs work better for me in the context of the album rather than as individual songs on my shuffle.

THEESatisfaction - EarthEE


Cool jazz? Trip-hop? Smooth R&B? Space rock? THEESatisfaction don't let categories stop them from exploring whatever they want. When I saw them open for Sleater-Kinney (and engage me more than S-K did), the singing/rapping duo hit harder than what I hear on this album. Even so, they were more about drawing you in than getting in your face. "Planet for Sale," "Blandland," "Nature's Candy," and the title song stand out for me. Sometimes the music becomes pleasant background, but overall there's a lot to listen to here.

Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to Love


Of course I wanted to love this album. And I think I approached it without too many expectations. And given that, I liked it well enough. I gave it the full treatment in a post I wrote when the album first came out, and I still feel pretty much the same way. I think the album sounds really good, with great playing (probably stronger than ever). And it sounded even better when I saw them live. But that concert also pointed out just how much better the older material sounds. "Mature" Sleater-Kinney is still pretty good, but there are younger, hungrier bands that get me more excited now.

Positive No - GLOSSA


I can't remember why I followed Tracy Wilson on Twitter, but doing so led me to this album from her Virginia-based band Positive No. GLOSSA is an album I appreciate more intellectually than emotionally. The band is made up of four very creative musicians trading off each other, and that includes Wilson's vocals, which often are mixed like another instrument, barely rising over the top. The music is sometimes melodic, often dissonant, art post-punk. The lyrics are clever, with interesting turns of phrase and images like "bus stop cigarettes burn when you're gone." "Weird Hugs" "You Shoot, I Ladder" "Marjorie & Royal" are songs that catch my attention. I like it better when Wilson sings out than when she does breathy, almost whispered vocals, drawing out the words she is singing. I have listened to the album only a few times, and it's growing on me.

Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp


Cerulean Salt was my introduction to Katie Crutchfield, who records as Waxahatchee. She was an indie darling, but even though I love primitive that album mostly did not not engage me. Ivy Tripp feels like a big step forward. "Under a Rock" (which feels like vintage Crazy Horse), "Poison," "The Dirt," and "Grey Hair" catch my ear. Crutchfield goes full-on singer-songwriter on the three-quarter-time "Summer of Love" to beautiful effect. "Stale by Noon" makes me a bit crazy, but that might be because I hate the Fender Rhodes sound. The repetitive programmed drums on songs such as "Air" and "<" ("less than") I'm not big on either. Overall, though, I like what Crutchfield has done here. This is another that I like more in context than as individual songs.

Metric - Pagans in Vegas


Synthesizers have always been part of Metric's sound, no more so than on their album Synthetica. Now with Pagans in Vegas they have made a completely synth-based album. If there is any guitar in this mix, it's acoustic. Instead of playing, Jimmy gets to sing a song! I think this album works best when the songs are distinctly Metric songs, such as the way the album starts with "Lie Lie Lie," "Fortunes," and "The Shade," and later with "For Kicks." I also love the haunting "The Governess," which is really different than I have heard from Metric before. I think it works much less well when the song loses out to the purposely clichéd synth dance melody and beat. Really, "Celebrate" and "Cascades" could be any 1980s dance band. Is that the idea? I love Emily Haines's voice, but it can't redeem a sub-par song. And without that voice, the closing instrumental tracks are skippable. Apparently the next album will be back to guitars. I look forward to that.

Shannon and the Clams - Gone by the Dawn


Goddess knows I love vintage sounds and lo-fi production. And I know I'm supposed to like Shannon and the Clams. "Kinda like" is the best I can do. This record is touted as going beyond their 1950s and '60s nostalgia. Sometimes it does, but it feels mostly like shtick to me. And if you love that shtick, great. Shannon Shaw does have an interesting voice when she doesn't try to push it too low, and some of the songs stand out for me: "Point of Being Right," "Corvette," "Telling Myself." "Knock 'em Dead" is a curious bit of early punk. The on-purpose cheesy keyboard sounds get old for me—right off the bat, actually, on "I Will Miss the Jasmine." The repetition of the refrain on "If You're Gone by the Dawn" tries my patience. If find that I can enjoy listening to the entire album when I'm in the mood. On shuffle play in my car, I'm likely to skip to the next song.

Screaming Females - Rose Mountain


I love Marissa Paternoster's playing. I'm not quite as fond of her singing, although I think this is the best singing she has done to date. And even though her songs are fine, they're not great songs. For the most part, they don't stick with me, although the title song works well. Her playing does stick with me, which is really the point, I guess, although possibly not what Paternoster wants most. "Empty Head" is verse riff plus portentous metal chorus that doesn't fit with verse riff. "Wishing Well" quiet and melodic, good stuff (although solo goes a bit awry). "Hopeless" is slow as well with a strong melody.


Missing: Best Coast - California Nights, which I haven't bought, although they're getting very big and shiny these days. Veruca Salt - Ghost Notes, also don't have. I heard that they were great on their reunion tour.


Live shows: Sleater-Kinney (with THEESatisfaction), PINS, Speedy Ortiz, Namoli Brennet, Wax Idols, L7, the Richard Thompson Trio, and soon Tacocat. Sadly, the Potty Mouth show in Vancouver was cancelled.

2015/11/28

Hope and hard work

I drove away from my house a little after 9:30 this morning to do my usual Saturday morning provisioning at the farmers market. So when I turned on the radio, Chris Hall of CBC's The House was already in mid-interview with someone from the federal government. I guessed—correctly—that the interviewee was Dominic LeBlanc, the government house leader. And he was...answering questions! Not all of them, but most of them, giving straight responses with no obfuscation. At least once he said "That's a good question" and proceeded to honour the good question with a good answer. At one point when he didn't answer (and didn't pretend to), Hall asked again, saying, "Just between you and me," and LeBlanc laughed and said "You and me and about two million of your listeners, right?" It was very much a political interview, with Hall asking direct and sometimes pointed questions, but there was an openness to the whole thing that was striking.

I thought maybe I should pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

That's a sad commentary really. This kind of exchange between a national affairs correspondent and a government minister should not have seemed exceptional. Yet after almost a decade of hostility, stonewalling, and often complete bullshit (former foreign minister John Baird being one of the few Conservative ministers who seemed relatively at ease and forthcoming in interviews), it was absolutely refreshing to hear the obvious change of tone.

LeBlanc didn't know the answer to a question about specifics of the troop training deployment in Iraq and Syria because he was waiting for a decision from the Minister of Defence. He brought up several other cabinet colleagues who were clearly very hands-on with their portfolios. He spoke of having a discussion with the leader of the Conservative caucus in the Senate and with the leader of the Senate Liberals (technically no longer a caucus) about the role of the Senate as currently configured and how a Conservative majority in the upper house would handle legislation from a Liberal government.

I spent the years of Conservative minorities warning about what would happen if the Conservatives won a majority, and the last four years helping cite the abuses that the Harper government was perpetrating. It was a surprisingly uphill battle. For a long time, many people seemed to have thought that things weren't so bad, that they were really okay, and that the new normal was fine or even inevitable. Since the election, I have seen so many with a palpable sense of relief at the change in the government and in the country. It's that stark. I read someone saying that the defeat of Stephen Harper and the end of his tenure as Prime Minister was like getting away from an abusive partner. You don't know just how bad it was until it stops.

Certainly the new government is far from perfect. Except among the media, whose job it is to be skeptical, and some of the chattering classes, who do what they do, the Trudeau honeymoon seems not to have finished. But the government faces huge issues, those they promised to deal with as well as things they did not anticipate. The Prime Minister will inevitably disappoint some. Rookie ministers will make mistakes. And that is especially true because we are not just back to the status quo ante. In many ways, Canada is back. But in many more ways, this is a government of new ideas. Some of those will run aground on the shoals of reality and changed circumstances, but I think that with this new generation of politicians we might see some changes that we really do like and have been needing for a long time.

I am cautiously, realistically excited. Is that possible?

I have even applied to work with the transition team, despite being able to see the light of retirement at the end of the work tunnel. Somehow I think my lack of direct government or political experience and my fair-to-middlin' command of French will not put me high on any minister's list of potential employees, but who knows. I even said I would be willing to relocate to Ottawa. And I hate winter! But I have always wanted to go ice skating on the Rideau Canal. And right now, Ottawa is where it's happening.

Whether I am in Ottawa or, much more likely, here in Vancouver, I really am realistic. But I am also really excited. This is Barack Obama time for Canada, except I think this government might be even more forward-looking and has the advantage of a majority in the House rather than a hostile Congress. I'm actually anticipating the Speech from the Throne and for the House to be in session again. Let's get to work! We have a lot to undo and a lot to do.

2015/11/15

Open letter to PMJT

Dear Prime Minister,

By now we all know about the attacks by Daesh on civilians in Beirut and Paris. We also know, and have known, that Daesh continues to wreak havoc in Iraq and Syria and to execute people every day. Slaughter is nothing new to them. We should not only now be paying attention to it.

Recently, I have seen many calls for Canada to change the foreign policy stance that was set out in the Liberal platform and that you have shown every indication of following. I have seen calls for you to change your mind about bombing and to toughen Canada’s response to terrorism. I have even seen calls to "put boots on the ground," that facile phrase usually uttered by those who will never have to create an effective strategy for those boots and whose own boots will remain safely (so far) in Canada.

No one seems to know what will truly be effective against Daesh. After bombing, including by Canadian forces, and fighting on the ground for years, Daesh is still a viable fighting force holding territory and pushing beyond it. The current flurry of cries are all of the "do something" variety. There is no question that a response is required. But a poor response would be a mistake.

I trust you and your government to hold to the principles you articulated so eloquently—and strongly—in your ministerial mandate letters. I trust you to keep your head while others seem to have fallen into macho outrage.

I understand the outrage. I understand the grief. I understand the desire to "do something."

But if that something does nothing more than make us feel good, and especially if it ends up doing more harm than good, then we must resist the temptation to react and, I daresay, play into the intentions of Daesh, and instead hold to our determination to act in ways that will actually help.

One change I do urge is for Canada to cancel sales of military hardware, even light-armoured vehicles, to Saudi Arabia. Not only is that equipment used in Saudi Arabia's ongoing violation of the civil rights of its own people; it is also well known that Saudi Arabia funds Sunni extremists, all the while smiling and pretending to be our friend. We must not be in the position of helping those who repress their own people and aid those who wish to destroy others near and far.

I urge you to continue to look for effective ways of dealing with the violence of terrorism and the destruction wrought by war. I trust that you will. We must use what power we have to find ways to undercut Daesh and not just strike back at it.

However we respond, we must not lose the Canada we love just as we are starting to regain it. I think you feel the same way. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Véronique

2015/11/05

The woman who knew too much

(If life disturbs you, don't read this. There's my warning.)

I had considered myself fortunate. Unlike too many other people I know, I had never been sexually assaulted. At least that's what I thought until just a few days ago. For some reason, I recalled an incident that happened many years ago. I had never forgotten it. I was just thinking about it again. And it struck me, as it never had before, that the incident was sexual assault.

Not a club I actually wanted to join.

What happened was not asked for, nor was it wanted. It violated boundaries. It violated trust.

I didn't stop it. I could have. At least I think so. But I was in a vulnerable situation, and it happened quickly. I was caught off guard, unprepared. And then it was over.

I didn't think of it as assault at the time. And I wasn't hurt, not physically. It wasn't my doing or my fault, and I never blamed myself. I just thought of it as a vaguely disturbing thing that happened. That I had allowed to happen. That might be a big part of why I never considered it assault.

Now it's in me in a whole new way.

I'm not trying to recast something innocent as something sinister. It wasn't innocent. It was not malicious, but it was definitely a transgression. I just hadn't really known what to call it. I've learned a lot since then. Now I know.

(Just so you know: We're not talking about Sweetie here. Anyone who is acquainted with us would know that, but I want to make sure it's clear to everyone.)

I'm still very fortunate, just not quite as fortunate as I thought I was. I'm okay. I don't think the incident altered the course of my life. I don't think of myself as a survivor. As I said, I wasn't physically harmed. There was nothing to survive, not like someone who escapes from a burning building or makes it home safely from a war—or lives with the memory of any traumatic experience. I don't consider that incident to have involved violence. A violation, to be sure, but not violence. That would devalue the real violence that too many experience.

Your mileage may vary. And it's not for me to say what's true for anyone else.

Now I'm trying to figure out what to do with this realization. Because I can't un-realize it. I'm not traumatized. I'm not suffering. But it's a thought that's staying with me now. I can't forget it. But can I let it go?