Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Beatles, Billy and Belle. . .

Got in an order of discs from Drag City Records. I will now spend the weekend getting acquainted with Will Oldham's Palace era output. Kind of a Christmas gift to self.

If the name doesn't ring a bell, Will Oldham is the ridiculously prolific man behind Palace, Palace Music, Palace Brothers and Bonnie Prince Billy. It's alt-countryish stuff that just kills me. Any good cd collection should have the BPB album I See A Darkness. Lie Down in the Light, his album from this year was almost as good. He's got a new album coming out this spring.

The last couple of days have been my own kind of Beatles revival. I'm listening to Help! right now and marvelling anew at how freaking good they were. I could fill a desert island list with Beatles albums, actually wind up on a desert island and never get bored.

And now I will leave you with a video. Books, Scottish pop icons and pretty women. . . What's not to love?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An admission. . .

I'm starting to like both House and Trailer Park Boys. Hooray for reruns on Showcase.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Weekend in the Country - Some Notes

Spent the weekend in the north country with the whole family and the niece. Way too much snow but it made for great tobogganing. I'm really glad I bought some good winter boots last week. Last year, for my one foray out into the snow, I made do with about 3 pairs of work socks in a pair of doc martens and, while it was okay on a mild day, it wouldn't have worked this year. Instead, I now have a pair of Baffin boots that are amazing.
My mother's pride and joy is sadly not me; it's her cookstove. It worked wonders over the weekend keeping everyone toasty warm. There's nothing better than wood heat, especially on a cold day.

For the first time in a long time, we had all six family members around for a game of pictionary. Much hilarity ensued. You can have your home theatres and your satellite dishes. A good board or card game with friends and family is much more fun. And cheaper too.

While I was up there, I finished Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris. It's a book of essays for book lovers. Serious book lovers. The sort of people who consider a road trip to a used bookstore a romantic birthday outing (I mean, who doesn't?). I loved it. From the difficulty of combining libraries with a spouse's to the joys of reading a book in the location where it is set, Fadiman offers up a great little collection that I will definitely enjoy revisiting from time to time.

I love living in the city and I really can't imagine living anywhere else. A break in the country, though, is a lot of fun and it ended far too quick. Thankfully, I only have three days of work and I'll be heading back up there.
My father in his front yard:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Still waiting for Andrew Dice Clay's children's book

Why not? Everyone else has one.

Made a trip to Mabel's Fables, a wonderful children's bookstore over on Mount Pleasant, to pick up some books for my niece. I've been going there for almost six years now. Coincidentally, my niece also happens to be almost six.

The only problem with a store full of kids books is that you begin to realize how many celebrities have used their celeb powers to write children's books. Sadly, even Bob Dylan has fallen into this trap.

If you're looking for a vanity project, why not take up painting and leave the helpless children alone? The books I remember from my childhood were all written by authors, not moonlighting celebs. The reason for this? Good writing is just as difficult when you are dealing with kids. It only looks easy because the good writers do it so well.

Must be going now. More Christmas shopping and then I'm heading north for the weekend where I will get to hang with the aforementioned niece.

Have a good weekend.

Canuck Book 6 - The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

A couple of years ago, I picked up a remaindered copy of Ascension, a novel by Steven Galloway. The story deals with an aging tightrope walker. For whatever reason, I still haven't gotten around to reading it. It always lingers somewhere near the top of my to be read pile but never quite breaks free.

Something tells me that will change soon. After reading Galloways latest, I'm definitely going to go back to Ascension. After that, I'll likely pick up his first novel, Finnie Walsh, as well.

The Cellist of Sarjevo is an incredible book. Taking the real life person of the cellist as a starting point, Galloway weaves a tale of three very different people as they struggle with the enormous task of trying to remain human in very inhuman times.

In response to the senseless death of twenty-two people waiting in line for bread, the cellist would perform Albinoni’s Adagio in the street where the deaths occured. He performed the piece once a day for twenty-two days (once for each person killed in the bombing).

The novel follows the life a baker, a father and a sniper who are all caught in a city under siege. Directly or indirectly, their lives wind up being affected by the cellist and what he stands for.

Everything about this book rings true, from the fear and paranoia to the random thoughts that goes through one's mind in spite or because of the horror one faces. One can't help but marvel at such a well told story.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Bible in Lego

My favourite part is the content notice:

"The Bible contains material some may consider morally objectionable and/or inappropriate for children. These labels identify stories containing: N = nudity S = sexual content V = violence C = cursing"

Lets see the book banners ban this book.

Lazy Man's Stalking

Earlier this week, I posted a link to a site that profiles writers' working spaces.

Today, I'm checking out peoples' listening preferences. It's a sad compulsion but it's a dreary Sunday morning so what else was I going to do?

The story is this - I was checking out the new Nina Simone set put out by Legacy Recordings, deciding if I really needed another four disc's of music, when I saw a sidebar thing offering up classic celebrity playlists by a wide assortment of celebrities, including William Shatner. I couldn't resist seeing what Captain Kirk is listening to so I followed the links and eventually got bounced over to itunes american site where there are pages of these playlists with short notes for each song.

The results? Interesting to say the least. The most boring ones are the people who play it too straight. R.E.M.'s list is exactly what you'd think R.E.M.'s list would be. As is Kevin Costner's. And Diablo Cody's. Blah.

There were some interesting things:

Kelly Ripa, of all people, has enough odd stuff (Broken Social Scene, Massive Attack, Nick Drake) to make you think she wasn't just offering up a token indie tune to look cool.

Jimmy Kimmel offered up Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time.

Chris Rock listens to the White Strips, Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Cure.

Mike Myers likes the Magnetic Fields. It still doesn't excuse The Love Guru, but it's a start.

Margaret Cho wants to join Broken Social Scene. (actually, BSS gets cited by a number of celebrities)

Turns out I'm not the only one listening to this Joni Mitchell person. She's probably the most widely cited artist out there.

U2's One is probably the most cited song.

As for athletes, Giants' pitcher Barry Zito listens to Jeff Buckley and only one hockey player cited The Tragically Hip.

Julie Delpy cites the Clash, Bowie, Neil Young and Elliot Smith among others. But, then again, she could cite the phone book. . .

Rufus Wainwright citing Kurt Weill is kind of expected. Citing songs by mom and sis but not dad is interesting.

The absolute worst list is by Poison. Citing the song Sexyback and the band Nickleback will never bring the hits back. Citing two of your own songs is just sad.

Thom Yorke (calm down, Ms. Zombie) gives instructions on how his list is to be played.

There's plenty of Beach Boys on Brain Wilson's list, but, oddly or not, no Beatles. Probably still a sore spot.

Cat Stevens citing Sufjan Stevens' Chicago just seems like a perfect choice.

If you're looking for the playlists, go to the itunes store and search for celebrity playlists. It will come up in the 'related' box. For a bigger selection, switch to the US itunes store first.

I really should get a hobby or something.

Doing Leonard Cohen

Last night I finally got off my but and did something I've been meaning to do for a while - I went to the theatre. It's kind of like going to the TSO or the Opera in that I always say I want to go but then just don't bother.

Now I'm kicking myself. You see, my only real exposure to plays come from seeing a big production with a big name at some big theatre. I saw Judd Hirsch as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman at the Royal Alex. I saw the guy who played John Boy Walton in 12 Angry Men at the Princess of Wales Theatre. I saw a Mamet play down on Broadway with Nathan Lane.

Last night I went to see Doing Leonard Cohen at the Young Centre down in the Distillery District. Not a traditional play, the first act is a series of interpretations of short Cohen poems. The second act distills and deconstructs Beautiful Losers, Cohen's second novel.

I went on a whim and was blown away. The only time I'd ever seen a play in such an intimate setting before was when I spent a few days enjoying the Winnipeg Fringe Festival while hitchhiking to Vancouver in the early 90's. I forgot what a magical experience it can be to watch people perform and not feel like you're a million miles away and entirely divorced from the action.

The play, itself, was a blast. They really played up a lot of the humour of Cohen's work, dividing the work between the actors and bringing the works to life in incredible ways. There was a sheer physicality to the production that I wouldn't have imagined to be possible with Cohen's work.

Just to prove it isn't just about the Stampede, Chad Vangaalen and a Zombie, the troupe performing the play, One Yellow Rabbit, is based in Calgary. One of their next productions will be an adaptation of Dave Bidini's hockey erotica, The Five Hole Stories. Apparently, they will be touring with the Rheostatics providing live music!

I think I'm going to have to check this theatre thing out more often.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Friends / MuchMusic Redux

You know how old I am? I'm old enough to remember when MuchMusic actually played videos. I'm even old enough to remember them playing some pretty cool indie videos, something that would never happen nowadays.

They even played a video by my friends' band, Chewy. At least once. And someone had a vcr running.

Now it's on youtube. Probably doesn't resonate as well for anyone who didn't go to high school in Sarnia in the early 90's but that's ok.

I will now reminisce . . .

Monday, December 08, 2008

Guilty Pleasures

I spent this weekend organizing things. Saturday, I put together a bookshelf. Sunday, I put together a massive cd rack that now holds my entire collection (with room for more). It's almost too big. My 19 inch tv just looked small before; now it looks tiny.

Anyways, the new bookshelf is in the living room. While I don't have too many people over, I did want to make sure that the books I leave on display are a decent representation of what I read (or what I want people to think I read, at least). It may be the sort of vanity that only a geek would engage in, but it was vanity nonetheless.

So there might be a little more poetry on the new shelf than in the rest of the collection, more capital L literature than I'd normally have. Also, there are no guilty pleasures.

Guilty pleasures. We all have them. I mean, one can't read Joyce and Tolstoy every day, can they? So there are the books that don't make it onto the shelf. If they do, they wind up in a bottom corner or "haphazardly" placed so the spine can't be easily read.

I'm talking about genre fiction, the pulp novels one reads. The harlequins and spy novels, Harry Potters and Tom Clancy's. Candy books is the way I look at them - they provide a quick rush but are just as quickly forgotten. We all have them.

The one good thing about moving last spring is that most of my guilty pleasures didn't quite make it along for the ride. I went through my collection and got rid of most of the books I'm not likely to touch again. So gone are the Andrew Vachss novels. Also gone are the Harry Potters (happily, they wound up in the hands of a young family at my old building).

Which makes things a little tougher for me. I wanted to talk about guilty pleasures but my shelves are fairly bare of them. This won't last for long, of course.

On closer inspection, I did manage to dredge up two prime examples of the guilty pleasure - Slash's autobiography and Pamela Des Barres groupie tell all "I'm With The Band". What can I say? I grew up listening to 80's metal and 60's and 70's rock. They're prime examples of the guilty pleasure - books that were enjoyable but that I'm not likely to namedrop in a conversation (but I'm willing to blog about them. . . ).

But there I go justifying things when I really shouldn't have to. Do I feel the need to justify myself if I watch a sitcom instead of a documentary?

Sometimes I like to read trash. I'm not one for manifestos or slogans but that is mine for today. And sometimes I like to get paid for work. And they won't pay me unless I show up. And I'm running late so I will leave it at that.

One last thing. Now that I've offered up a couple of my ink and paper indulgences, I'm curious. What have you been reading?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Something new. . .

I finally got my new bookcase put together. Things are a lot less cluttered at my place (for now). I didn't really do much in the way of organizing but I did devote one whole shelf to books of letters and I almost filled it (I needed John Cheever's short stories and his journals to totally fill the shelf).

I also made sure to group my WPA guides together. It wasn't hard today as I only have three so far (New York City, California and Wisconsin). Eventually, I'd like to track down the whole set. They were guidebooks written by the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration during the depression. Not only are they a wealth of interesting facts about 30's USA, they are also great to read. Many of the writers went on to have impressive writing careers after the depression.

The rest is a jumble in the best possible way. Poetry, prose, fiction, nonfiction all stuffed together. Now I just need to do the same for my cds. . .

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I really don't want to do this. . .

I'm tired of political rants. We had a good summer and fall of politicking and I'm almost full up. I want to wipe my mouth and push away from the table, grab a coffee and devote my time to something more interesting.

But the political stuff keeps coming. Harper is flailing about and trying to do what he normally does when pressed - duck, weave and avoid the questions he doesn't want to answer.

Before you start to believe the conservative party line about some grand 'socialist/separatist conspiracy', consider this:

The conservative parties floated the notion of coalitions with the bloc twice in the last decade.

The supposed proof of this conspiracy was taken from a phone call recorded surreptitiously and then made public. If the government is willing to do this just to score points, where will they stop? Not terribly democratic.

The root of this crisis lays in an economic framework that did nothing to help the economy. What it did do was A) stripped workers of their right to strike without reason and B) attempted to strip the opposition of any ability to oppose the conservatives in an election. For a party that talks so much about 'democracy', they sure don't back up their talk.

A coalition is not unconstitutional. Nor is it undemocratic. In fact, it may be the only way for government to act effectively and in the interest of all Canadians. We've had two Harper governments that talk about co-operation and then do anything but. A coalition forces the sort of cooperation that Harper would never dream of engaging in.

Argh. . .

Monday, December 01, 2008

Song Titles. . .

I bought an album Saturday based on song titles alone. I couldn't help it. After a jazzy morning, I was flipping through the jazz racks at Sonic Boom (which is fast becoming my favourite music store) and chanced upon Mingus' Let My Children Hear Music.

How can you not buy an album whose opening cut is "The shoes of the fisherman's wife are some jive ass slippers"? My second favourite track? "Don't be afraid, the clown's afraid too".


I also walked out of there with Otis Redding's Otis Blue. Dead at 26. What a horrible waste.

Time for bed. Good night all.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Funny. . . Or some thoughts on politics

Isn't it funny that, when it comes to Harper's power grab, everyone is talking about the clauses removing public funding of political parties but no one is talking about the clauses denying workers their legal right to strike?

Or how about the fact that Harper now says creating a coalition to gain power is undemocratic when that is what the right leaning parties did to create the conservative party?

I used to think Harper got his inspiration from Machiavelli. Now I think he's been reading too much Orwell.

For those in the rest of Canada who are trying to figure out what Flaherty is up to, it is this: Rather than find constructive and possibly innovative solutions to the financial crisis by working with the cities, municipalities, provinces and territories, he will simply start downloading. He will keep the federal government on an even keel by dumping all the financial responsibility onto the provinces and territories. It's the same thing Flaherty did when he was part of the Ontario government and dumped everything onto the municipalities. The municipalities, by the way, are still trying to dig their way out of the hole the PC's created. Enjoy. A minority of you voted for this.

Of course, if you happen to live in Flaherty's riding, fear not. I'm sure there will be some goodies that head your way. That just the way these fellas roll. Let the big left-leaning cities crumble but keep the pet projects coming to their hometowns. Makes you realize that they weren't really angry or upset by Chretien's financial dealings; they were just jealous.

It's nice to see the opposition show a backbone, though. Let's hope it's a particularly gamey crow that Stevie is eating right now.

Hawksley, Julie Delpy and a jazzy morning

First of all, Hawksley was amazing. It was a wonderful fun incredible show despite some technical difficulties.

The best part of the show was that it was fun. There were all sorts of weird segues like when he jumped into The Culture Club's Karma Chameleon and then shifted to Starship's We Built This City showing that, for better or worse, he too was a child of the 80's. Sometimes you just had to marvel at the audacity of it all - the theatrical vocals, the screeching violin solos by Jesse Zubot, the fact that a show so big (it's Massey Hall!) could actually seem relaxed and intimate.

My favourite moment, though, was when the PA crapped out. It took the band a while to realize because their monitors were still working but, when they did, Hawksley stepped up. He borrowed an acoustic guitar from openers Hey Rosetta! (who were quite good, by the way) walked up to the front of the stage and sang to the crowd. When the PA kicked in halfway through the song, he switched back to his electric and finished the song with a flourish. It was only half a song, but it was a great moment, turning a gaffe into something to be remembered fondly.

The end came far too soon as far as I was concerned (isn't that always the case?). Unfortunately, it seems that Massey Hall has a curfew, so at 11 we were all sent out into the streets to mull over what a great show we had just witnessed.

This morning, I'm listening to jazz. For some reason, Saturday mornings and jazz just seem to go hand in hand for me. I guess I spent so many years working weekends that having a free Saturday morning just feels decadent. I get up slowly, read in bed for a bit, toss on jeans and a t-shirt and shuffle off for a cappuccino (decadence doesn't stand for my usual black coffee), come home and throw on some jazz while I plot my day (or blog, as I'm doing now).

Personal favourites for a Saturday? Dexter Gordon's Our Man in Paris, Coltrane's My Favourite Things, Mingus Ah Um. If it's a particularly sunny Saturday (I don't know why, but it has to be sunny), I'll put on Pharoah Sanders' Karma album and let my mind be opened by the 32 plus minute track The Creator Has a Master Plan. It's wave after wave of acid jazz wonkiness but it works.

Today I started with some Nina Simone. I'd never really heard her until I watched Before Sunset. Watching Julie Delpy's character talk about and sing along to Nina Simone sent me out to the jazz section of Sam The Record Man's (it's a good thing she wasn't talking about and grooving to scientology. . . ). It doesn't really matter how I found Ms Simone, though. I'm just glad I did.

Anyways, I've rambled on long enough. I'm off to Meet The Presses this afternoon. It's kind of a breakaway event started by one of the guys who started the original Small Press Book Fair. There was all kinds of ugliness and intrigue but the upshot is another chance to talk with authors and bookmakers. And hopefully not buy (too many) books.

Friday, November 28, 2008

In other news. . .

I can never just post one post, can I? I'll go a few days with nothing to say and then I finally muster up the motivation to say something anyways. Once the levee has been breached, it's just easy to add another post of something that is completely unrelated.

That being the underlying motivation of this post, I will go on. I can't go on. I will go on. I will say that I am operating on too little sleep (if you could not tell) and that all annoying run-on sentences are not my attempt to get back to my 18 year old beatnik wannabe coffeehouse self but really a symptom of too little sleep because I worked until 2am last night and couldn't really sleep in this morning but I wrangled a deal with the supervisor so I will only have a 6 hour shift tonight and I will indeed be going to see Hawksley Workman at Massey Hall tonight.


He's fun, flamboyant, ridiculously talented and from Huntsville. What a strange mix.

I will shed a tear going to this show, though, because the last (and only) time I was at Massey Hall was to see the Rheostatics' last show.

That's it for now.

Perhaps Black Friday Should Be Rethought

There is just so much wrong with the above story. Not least the fact that it's a friggin' Walmart. Are cheap cleaning products and household items really worth stampeding over?

Is anything worth stampeding over?

What a freaking mess. On Thursday, you have a ginormous turkey ostensibly to give thanks for what you have. The next day, you're up before dawn to buy more crap because you really weren't happy with what you have. You were just holding out for a sale.

It makes me hope the economy tanks and that whole malls wind up shutting down. Maybe that way, we will go back to a culture where we buy what we need, not what we (think we) want. This will be a good thing because our society has gotten to the point where we really don't know what we want anymore. We see the shiny bauble. We crave it. We buy it. We see the next shiny bauble. We've gotten to the point where we are willing to trample a fellow human being just to get more cheap crap because the sign or the flyer says that this cheap crap is the cheapest bestest cheap crap there is.

Me, I'm going to pay a little more and buy a little less. I'm also going to avoid the stampede.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Late nights and youtube. . .

It started off as a quest for videos of the various Wainwrights. It devolved to watching a talented girl with a ukulele and way too much time on her hands. . .

I've never liked this song but I can't help but admire this version of it - ridiculous but infectious:

She also does a decent version of Her Majesty, one of my all time favourite Beatles tunes.

If I was to play 6 (well, 8) degrees of Youtube, it went kind of like this -

1. Martha Wainwright's BMFA to

2. Rufus Wainwright's One Man Guy with Martha singing back-up to

3. Loudon covering One Man Guy to

4. Loudon doing Daughter to

5. someone named mrabaz doing Daughter to

6. mrabaz doing Bright Eyes' The First Day of My Life to

7. Julia Nunes doing The First Day of My Life on Uke to

8. Julia Nunes doing Survivor

My advice? Skip steps 5 and 6. The rest of it is decent.

Monday, November 24, 2008


New Year's Eve or When Yr Drunk, You'll Photograph Anything. . .

My travelling companion from my NYC journey (see my posts from early Feb. for an explanation and more pics).

More NYC.

Screwing around with my camera in Ottawa. Always knew Ottawa leaned to the left.

Even my parents likely don't know why they have this thing. . .

When I'm wandering around the parents' property, I always get distracted by wildflowers and berries.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Petty details or foolish acts of hubris. . .

I'm a big fan of double and triple checking things. With the internet, it's just so easy that I can never understand when people don't double check things. It's something I can be a bit cocky about, truth be told.

And then I go and do something foolish. I buy a ticket in a rush and don't bother double-checking the details. So, while there is a Loudon Wainwright concert happening in Toronto on a November Sunday, it turns out that it is actually happening next Sunday.


I figure by then my face will not be quite as red.

In other news, I watched Touch of Evil this weekend and was impressed. I'd never really taken the time to watch any of Orson Welles' movies before. It's one of those things I've always meant to do but never gotten around to. As for this movie, I basically picked Touch of Evil to start with because of Tom Russell's song of the same name. Next weekend, I think I will finally get around to watching Citizen Kane.

I've been spending the last month or so reading through the books I have rather than buying new ones. It's amazing how many books I've bought because they were on sale or because I found a good used copy and then never actually read. Right now, I'm reading Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned. Not quite the thrill of Gatsby, but a great read nonetheless.

It's amazing how much book buying became a habit. I could find all kinds of excuses to go out and pick up a new book. If I was being frugal, then I'd hit the used book stores. I'd still wind up spending money, but I could excuse it as a 'deal'. Right now, when I find a book I must have, I take advantage of ChIndigo's wishlist function and store the title there. That way, I can go and look at it when the embargo is done. For now, I'm doing fine reading books from my own library.

On that note, Mr. Fitzgerald is waiting. . .

Now it's all covered with snow. . .

It's been a while since I added some pics. I took these this summer and fall around Parry Sound:

My parents pride and joy, their new house. They face towards a big field and then the tracks. Down the hill behind the house is the lake and cottage. It works great. Next summer when they head north to cottage country, they'll have about a five minute walk.

My father driving a southbound freight by his new house.

My uncle is building a log house. . . By himself. It's incredible. He's picked up a number of old tractors, trucks and pieces construction equipment to help with the job. They may not look like much but he keeps them all running when most people thought they were lost causes.

This one's for my sister. She's a bit of a John Deere aficionado.

Bittersweet. It sucks to see a farm fall into disrepair. On the other hand, it makes for a nice pic. I lucked out with this one because I took it from a moving car.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday night, early winter - some impressions

Tonight was a night of breath clouds and car exhaust clouds where everyone charges up and down sidewalks hunched in the cold like Bob Dylan on that album cover. The air was winter night clear and electric and I was glad to be out in it, if only for a short while.

I love the city at night. I love the crowds of people walking talking gliding from movie houses and coffee houses and off to bars and parties or maybe just to home. At night, the city dances to the rumble of subways underfoot and the whooshing of cars going uptown and down. Bits of conversation fly on the wind.

The pigeons have gone home to roost. The CN Tower is covered in strange light. Steam rises from manhole covers. The sushi joint waiter stands patiently while the last table lingers.

I think of a Cowboy Junkies' song - "When a bum asks for a quarter / you give a dollar / if he's out tonight / he must be truly down" - and would do the same. But there are no bums out tonight, at least not here.

The guy who works in the local video store has great taste in music. On a night like this it's hard to consider any movie that isn't black and white, so I don't. I walk home thinking this night would be perfect, if only there were some stars in the sky.

Random bits. . .

It's an aimless Friday so I'll offer up a suitably aimless post:

Through the wonders of my cable on demand thingamabob, I'm catching up on 30 Rock. I never manage to watch much primetime tv but, if I did, this would be the show. It's one of the funniest shows I've seen in a long time. Well, that and Canada's Worst Driver but the latter is much more a scary funny kind of thing.

I'm going to see Loudon Wainwright on Sunday at Hugh's Room. He's a great songwriter and he's playing at one of my favourite venues.

They're making a biopic of Allen Ginsberg. Not sure I see James Franco as Ginsberg but, still, they're making a biopic of Allen Ginsberg! Maybe this will give me the incentive to finish Bill Morgan's I Celebrate Myself. It's a brick of a book that I've been whittling away at for too long.

Tomorrow, I'm off to the Toronto Train Show. I haven't been to it in years. It's amazing the amount of detail they put in to the layouts. I used to say model railroading is the hobby I'd take up when I retired. Then I saw remote control airplanes. . .

Monday, November 17, 2008

Holy Canuck!

So, I was wandering around wikipedia, looking up useless info. Actually, it all started by looking for information on the new Guns n Roses album that may actually be released next week but I probably shouldn't admit that. (what can I say? I might not listen to much metal anymore but I am curious about what such an expensive, time-consuming project might sound like.)

Anyways, I was wandering around wikipedia when I chanced upon the top 10 best-selling albums according to Neilsen SoundScan. What surprised me is that 3 of the top 10 are albums by Canadians. Very cool. Alas, the 3 albums are Shania Twain's Come On Over (#1), Alanis Morisette's Jagged Little Pill (#3) and Celine Dion's Falling Into You (#10). Not exactly my favourite 3 Canuck albums but not bad considering the list also features such heavy hitters as *nsync, backstreet boys and creed.

I was trying to keep a straight face when I said heavy hitters but I can't. It just goes to show that if you want to make it big, you should probably marry older guys, hire songwriting factories or have a somewhat creepy relationship with that guy from Full House.

Union Bashing

Now that the auto industry is looking for a bailout, we get to deal with a fresh batch of the oldest arguments around.

Obviously, the reason why the auto industry is in a bad way has nothing to do with costly oil, a credit crunch or a global economy that puts first world manufacturers at a serious disadvantage.

Nope, it's the workers that are to blame. The greedy workers that asked for (and received) decent compensation for their labour. Tsk. Tsk.

I love hearing people calling in to news shows outraged that those lazy union workers make more than teachers or some other group of workers. The suggestion is we should solve this problem by cutting back the wages and benefits of the auto workers.

Am I the only one to think this is a short sighted, ridiculous notion? Who does this serve? Definitely not the teachers and other workers. Will they really feel better knowing that the auto workers are now making the same low wage that they are? What a victory. Rather than suggesting that teachers and other workers should make more, we'll just let the auto workers make less. Yay.

When the bank bailout was put together, people didn't attack the bank tellers and accountants for making a living. Now that it's the auto industry's turn, let's lay the blame where it deserves to be laid. . . In the boardroom.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Eunoia goes to the Brits. . .

I'm sure bookninja will have this link by Monday, but I couldn't resist. Eunoia is a wonderful book of poetry by a great Canuck writer (Christian Bok). It's a book every poetry lover should own. It's great to see it getting some attention overseas:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Two More Videos

Tom Russell is one of my all time favourite songwriters. He's one of the reasons why country music is still relevant today. Well, at least some of it is, though it's not often called country anymore. Most of the good stuff is being packaged as americana or alternative country just to differentiate it from the watered down, paint by numbers stuff that comes out of the corporate bowels.

I always figure the people who claim to like "any kind of music except country" have just never had a chance to listen to real country music. You peel away all the corporate gloss, jettison the repackaged pop tarts, ditch the stereotypes and then add feeling, musicianship and intelligence and you wind up with music that is relevant, powerful and original.

The first one is more traditional, storytelling fare. It's also a great tune. Apparently, Johnny Cash did record this once but it was never released, which is a shame.

His later stuff has gotten more introspective. He's still a storyteller, but the focus has shifted and narrowed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Cool Video

Remembrance Day

Today I will remember the soldiers who died and the ones who lived. I will think of the people who have given their all because that is what their country asked them to do. Today I will observe the silence and wear a poppy and take a little time to think of how lucky I am to be a Canadian.

Tomorrow, however, I suggest we remember the reasons for these wars. Tomorrow, I suggest we remember that the best and the brightest of too many generations have been offered up as cannon fodder so that rich, powerful rulers can become even richer and more powerful.

We are too quick to tell ourselves that we must fight. We are too quick to accept that war is the only answer. We are too quick to believe the headline and ignore the fine print. If war is truly the only answer, then why doesn't it work?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Missing the Fall Nationals

November is just not as much fun without a string of Rheostatics shows at the Horseshoe to look forward too. The Rheos were never a band to take themselves too seriously so the shows were generally loose and fun and sometimes magical.

I've been thinking more and more about the Rheos since seeing Martin Tielli play at Hugh's Room in September. Tonight while I was composing my auto industry rant (see previous post), I was listening to a Rheos show done at Centennial Secondary School in 2000. The band was accompanied by the school's bands and choir. What other rock band would do such a thing?

The Fall Nationals were a blast. Taking over the Horseshoe for the better part of two weeks, they would hit the stage every night and remind people about just how much fun music can be.

Even better, they had a knack for picking great opening acts. It was at a Rheostatics shows that I first saw Serena Ryder play. How someone so young could have such a powerful voice I still don't fully understand but it was a treat. Another year, it was Danny Michel - one of Canada's truly great singer-songwriters.

Now, it's all just a bunch of computer files, a bunch of digital memories to be revisited on these long cold nights.

A Not So Smart Way to Waste Billions of Dollars

Now that the Americans have fixed the economy by spending 700 billion dollars bailing out helpless victims of the economic crisis (namely, huge banks), they are going to start throwing billions of dollars at the auto industry. Smart idea. Why flog a dead horse when you can line its pockets with taxpayer's money?

It's not like the auto industry has done anything to create this problem. Who could have seen that shaping your entire business around the sale of oversized gas guzzlers could be a bad thing? Who knew that ridiculously cheap oil might not last forever? Certainly not the forward thinking auto industry.

Besides, hasn't the auto industry always been there in the past to help us? Those little fits of economic blackmail? The threats to move plants to or from Mexico or the U.S. or Canada or China or wherever if more subsidies aren't provided? Well, that's just a misunderstanding. They don't want to bankrupt communities. Rather, they just want to enrich the good hardworking folks in the boardrooms of some far off city. What's so wrong about that? It's kind of like Robin Hood in reverse and we all know Robin Hood was a good guy.

What has the auto industry ever done to hurt us? Nothing really. Just a few minor misunderstandings:

Personally, I say we take the hit. Let the auto industry fend for itself for a change. You know we are in dire straits when even the auto industry is talking about a move away from oil. That's kind of like Keith Richards waking up one day and not reaching for a vodka and orange juice for breakfast - a noble thought but probably a few decades too late to do any good.

Can we really trust our future to an industry that has been governed by greed and wanton self-indulgence for so long?

Instead of bailing out a failing industry one more time, lets spend the money on things that will help us, like transit and more liveable cities. If we spent wisely, we may even have some money left over to help the arts (because the mental environment is almost as important as the physical one).

Just don't tell Stephen Harper that as he has yet to find an arts program he couldn't gut.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Cows and such. . .

Hello blogreaders,

Tuesday was a good day indeed. I definitely hope we're in for at least four years of more rational, balanced behaviour from our southern neighbour. It's about time.

Besides it's nice to see a real leader get the chance to lead. You listen to Obama talk and you can't help but listen and feel that things aren't quite as bad or maybe they are but now we have someone to lead us out of the abyss. It's a rare thing these days.

The world has been in need of a few good leaders for a while now. Just look at the G8. Until Obama showed up, there wasn't a true leader amongst them. Lots of politicians, but politicians tend to just muck about without someone to guide them.

Russia? Putin's KGB roots betray him. He controls instead of leads. It may sound like splitting hairs but it's not.

Canada? We really haven't had a natural leader since Trudeau. Anyone who has to advertise what a normal family man he is is not a leader. For that matter, an idealist academic with charisma issues is not a leader either. For the record, I'm not saying there weren't faults to Trudeau. There were many, but leadership wasn't one of them.

As for Great Britain, Blair and his successor Brown don't strike me as leaders either. Blair was too quick to defer to the Americans after 9/11 and I don't think they've really recovered. For a once great nation, England just seems to muddle about now. But, then again, my views have been tainted somewhat by years of listening to Billy Bragg, so maybe I'm wrong (but I doubt it).

Germany, France, Italy, Japan? I can tell you who runs their countries (actually, I had to look up the leader of Japan), but that's about all I can tell you.

I think that's part of the reason why we seem to be drifting about these days. I look back on the 20th century as a great age for leaders. Not all of them were good and the good ones all had faults, but at least they provided direction. Nowadays we keep talking about what should be done but no one has the strength or courage to take the helm and steer us there.

Perhaps now we have someone like that. Perhaps. It could all still go wrong but I think this is the first good chance we've had in years. And that makes me guardedly optimistic.

I was actually going to write a post about going to the Royal Winter Fair tomorrow with my sister. It's a tradition we have. What better way to spend a fall day then to wander amongst farm exhibits and livestock shows? Alas, I've taken up far too much of your time with my political musings.

Hope all is well,


Sunday, November 02, 2008

NPR Preps Listeners Who May Want To Move North After Tuesday

It's a short list so glaring exceptions are the rule rather than the exception. Personally, I like it for its wonkiness. No, it's not a great representation, but what is? Everyone could do a better list, but everyone's list would be different. At least this list has some unusual choices. The Maestro thing is a little off but, for better or worse, it was a huge hit. I just get a kick out of seeing him and Glenn Gould side by side, a strange contrast for a nation of strange contrasts.

Ouch / Sympathy for the Actor

The New York Times printed a pretty brutal review of Toews' The Flying Troutmans. I say they're horribly wrong.

They did, however, print a good article about the unlikely adoption of Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls as a favourite book for presidential candidates. McCain demonizes Obama for being a socialist yet idolizes Robert Jordan, the socialist freedom fighter from Hem's book. Irony, you are alive and well.

Anyways, last night I went out to the fall edition of the small press book fair, an event I've attended for years. This year's edition was a letdown. For whatever reason, they decided to try an evening set-up with a full slate of readers and musicians on stage. The tables for the small presses to sell their wares were significantly reduced.

That was a mistake. The joy of the fair for me had always been walking amongst the rows of tables, talking to the various authors and bookmakers. I almost always left the fair with a backpack full of chapbooks and zines and a head full of ideas for projects of my own. While reading are nice, I've always considered them to be an addition to the fair, not the fair itself.

The fact that there were still some tables actually made things worse because there really were not that many people paying attention to what was happening on stage. People were too busy talking to what writers there were, leaving the poets to read their works to a non-audience.

So I went, was underwhelmed and left less than an hour later. I popped by Mr. Jerk for some takeout supper (they have really great jerk pork) and headed for home.

The night being young, I rented a couple of movies. While watching the first one - smart people - I started thinking about acting. It's funny how we take things for granted. We just expect actors to portray a complete range of emotions, to inhabit other peoples' lives even in a so-so movie like smart people. I couldn't imagine doing that.

I mean that. I truly couldn't imagine acting in a movie, portraying the life of a character, displaying someone else's emotions. I tell people I took grade 13 drama because I had run out of english classes to take and they usually chuckle. It sounds absurd but it's actually true. I liked the writing part of it a lot, though, and that's about the only reason why I got a decent grade.

Man, it's a beautiful day out there. Yesterday was a day of cleaning and puttering about. Today, I think I will grab my camera and go for a long work.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Just in Case You didn't Think I was a Geek

Yesterday I completed a Google Picture meme. The last question asked What is the first thing you would buy if you had a million dollars? My answer was this:

While that answer is generally correct, the more specific response would be:
What do you get for the man who has everything? A freaking big dictionary.

Found Music

I've been digging through boxes of cds looking for the Rocky Horror soundtrack. What can I say? It's Friday, it's Halloween and I'm a geek - kind of a perfect storm, as it were. Anyways, while digging through the discs, I've dug out a number of discs I really haven't listened to in far too long. So while I currently have Rocky Horror playing, it will soon give way to some music I haven't listened to in far too long.

This, then, is my playlist of the neglected:

1. Mazzy Star - So Tonight That I Might See

2. The Beta Band - The Three E.P.'s

3. Johnny Cash - The Sun Years

4. Cat Power - What Would The Community Think

There's more, but I do have to go to work today.

So, what discs have you been neglecting lately?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Meme on the Beach

The Bad Tempered Zombie ( has tagged me in a meme. Rather than anger a zombie this close to Halloween, I have decided to complete the Google Image meme. For this meme, I apparently have to answer the questions with images I google. Here goes:

1. The age you'll be on your next birthday -

2. A place you would like to travel to -

Kyrgyzstan - Saw it on an episode of lonely planet once and always wanted to go.
3. Your Favourite Place -

The North Shore of Lake Superior

4. Your Favourite Food -

The Hoito, in Thunder Bay, has the world's best pancakes.

5. Your favourite pet -
A tough one, as I live a petless existence. Here is the closest I've come lately -

Last spring, I was accompanied to New York by this monkey (who is still known as monkey, I believe). We took the Staten Island Ferry, went to MOMA, a Rangers game walked the Brooklyn Bridge and hung out in Times Square. The monkey now hangs out with my 5 year old neice up in the north country. I made a little book of it for her.

I cheated on this one. While I could have eventually found it through google (it's on my blog somewhere, it was just easier to get it off the hard drive.

6. Your favourite colour combination -

7. Favourite piece of clothing -

8. All Time Favourite Song -

Vision of Johanna - B. Dylan

9. Favourite TV Show -

10. First name of significant other / crush:
I'm going to have to pass on this one.

11. The place where you live:

12. Your screen name / nickname:

I used my blog name.

13. Your first job -

14. Your Dream Job -

15. A bad habit you have -

It's not the reading, it's the buying.

16. Your worst fear -
What can I say? The Zombie already had blindness so I'll fall back on my fear of the Leafs winning another cup. Of course, sudden total blindness is probably much more likely to occur.

17. One thing you would like to do before dying -

Other than dabble in immortality, I guess it's this -

Circling the globe without taking a plane. Starting with the QM2 to London.

18. The first thing you'd buy if you had a million dollars -
I'm sure I'd think of lots of other things, but I know myself too well to think I wouldn't be making a trip to the bookstore sometime shortly after the windfall.
Now it's time for a bagel and coffee. Thankfully, I live less than a five minute walk from 4 Starbucks and about a three minute walk from What A Bagel, home to Toronto's best bagels.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stealing from Ninjas Again.

Paint like the master. Give it a shot. Alas, I haven't found a way to drop cigarette butts and other stuff onto the canvas. Other than that, it works fine. This link was lifted from the ninjas' hangout ( while they were out doing what ninjas do.

While I'm at it, I might as well offer up a few more cool links: - an amazing collection of Rheos concerts to download. They always were a great live band. - a list of all the radio stations in the Toronto area with frequencies. Handy for someone like me who can never remember the university stations' frequencies when I go looking for something different. The site can be toggled back and forth between english and esperanto which is about as random as it gets, I guess. - if you want to know how long your long walk was, try this. - where hermits hang out. Just don't tell anyone. They don't want to lose their hermit cred.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

101 for the Year / a revelation

This is my 101'st post for this year. Where does the time go?

Anyways, I was playing with itunes genius. On a whim, I started a playlist with a Beatles tune. Usually, this draws a blank. For a while, genius did not seem to be able to work with Beatles. Today, it worked perfectly. Hm. . .

It's still not the greatest thing since sliced bread, but genius just got a whole lot better now that it recognizes the best pop band of all time.

Getting all Sarah Palin-y. . .

Don't worry. I'm not wearing a skirt and spouting folksy gibberish (now there's a visual I'm not sure the universe is prepared for). I'm actually just conducting a cull of my library. I've gone hunting for all the crappy books that have taken up space for too long (some since high school). (I guess hunting for books is sort of like hunting for moose. . . ) At the same time, I'm also hunting for some of the merely ok books I'm not likely to open again. It's been somewhat painful, but I'm feeling better now. Now I just need to find a place for the carcasses to go. I'll probably check with the local library first.

So now I'm taking a break. I'm listening to The Rat Pack Live at the Sands and wishing I had a martini. And a cigar. Though I don't smoke and rarely drink. The persuasive power of music. . .

Went out to a reading at Harbourfront last night. 5 authors - 3 Canucks, 1 Yank and 1 Brit. I went mainly to see Richard Russo - who was good - but I was blown away by Rohinton Mistry. What a wonderful reading voice. It was magical.

Listening to a writer read his or her work - especially a favourite writer - is always a crap shoot. As much as I love his work, my appreciation of Bukowski took a hit the first time I heard him read. There was just no connection between the voice coming from the speakers and the voice I heard in my mind (of course, watching him fly into a rage and kick his girlfriend during an interview didn't help matters much, either).

With Mistry, it went the other way. You just knew you were in the presence of a natural storyteller. It's a good thing he was the last one to read because there was no way anyone could follow him and not seem like a total bore.

Afterwards, I proved yet again just how big a geek I am. For reasons I don't really understand, I get starstruck meeting favourite authors. It happened last summer when I saw Sherman Alexie read. When I went up to talk to him after the reading, I just clammed up. Any semblance of eloquence left me and I stuttered and stammered and just barely managed to say I loved his work. True, my goal was to tell him I loved his work and to basically thank him for writing these books, but I did it in pretty much the most awkward, embarrassing way possible.

Last night was a little better, but not much. I waited until all the people with books to be signed had got them signed (I hadn't really thought far enough ahead to bring my tattered copies of Mohawk or Straight Man with me) and went up to talk to Richard Russo.

Richard Russo is one of my all-time favourite authors. He writes the sort of novels that I truly get lost in, big stories about not so big people living mostly in small towns and cities. He's a yarn spinner and I look forward to a new Russo novel in much the same way I look forward to a new Irving.

You would think that, having read all his books, I could come up with something at least a little bit interesting to say. You would be wrong. I got nervous. My mouth went a little dry. I had to content myself with tossing off a few lines about loving his work (kind of obvious) and how I look forward to his next one (well, duh).

Next time, I should probably just write a letter.

The upside is he told me he should have a new book out next year (which is surprisingly quick for him).

What's Playing

The evil genius behind Bad Tempered Zombie ( has found a cruel and dastardly way to keep me from my apartment cleaning. She completed the Top 25 Most Played Songs meme and posted the results on her blog. Now I must take very important dusting time and spend it listing my 25. Curses.

Of course, this list is skewed for a number of reasons. The biggest reason is that my ipod is mostly full of entire albums ripped from cds I own. As such, a lot of songs get played because they are on cds I like, even if they aren't favourites.

That's just as well. Listing my personal top 25 would be a far more difficult and foolish task. Whenever I contemplate doing a full-on, all-time top 5, 10 or 25, I just think of Rob from High Fidelity (the book or the movie) and realize that a) it would take far too much time and b) it would never wind up totally right. So I'll let itunes offer up a list that isn't too embarrassing and leave it at that.

Without further ado, I offer up my top 25 and the number of times played:

1. Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen (46)
2. Long Haired Child by Devendra Banhart (40)
3. Long Way Home by Tom Waits (38)
4. My Sweet Relief by Martin Tielli (36)
5. Mansion on the Hill by Bruce Springsteen (33)
6. This Lamb Sells Condos by Final Fantasy (33)
7. Lua by Bright Eyes (32)
8. Just Like A Woman by Nina Simone (Dylan cover) (32)
9. True Patriot Love by Joel Plaskett (30)
10. Poor Little Rich Boy by Regina Spektor (30)
11. Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen (29)
12. The Bridge by Elliott Brood (29)
13. So Everyone by Bonnie "Prince" Billy (27)
14. Johnny 99 by Bruce Springsteen (27)
15. Irving Berlin by Ian Tyson (27)
16. Ode to Divorce by Regina Spektor (25)
17. Samson by Regina Spektor (24)
18. In Your Head by Jim Chevalier (22)
19. Double X by Martin Tielli (22)
20. Plea From a Cat Named Virtue by The Weakerthans (22)
21. Highway Patrolman by Bruce Springsteen (21)
22. Bridges and Balloons by Joanna Newsom (21)
23. Fidelity by Regina Spector (21)
24. Rehab by Amy Winehouse (20)
25. State Trooper by Bruce Springsteen (20)

Can you tell I went through a serious Nebraska phase at one point? Where would we be without itunes to record that I have played Bruce Springsteen's Atlantic City a whopping 46 times?

I am pleased to note that my friend Jim makes the list at a very respectable 18'th place.

And now it's time to get back to the housework.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sometimes Real News. . .

. . . Is as funny as fake news:

Only 2 more weeks of this hilarity left.

Monday, October 20, 2008

McCain Trapped on a Bus. . .

With the Daily Show, Colbert and the Onion to keep us informed, why do we even have mainstream media?

John McCain Accidentally Left On Campaign Bus Overnight

I couldn't resist one more. How cute.

Precocious Youngster Sells Cookies To Buy Attack Ad

Top Five Favourite Country Music Songwriters

A quick list. I initially wanted to explain it all but soon realized there is no point. You either love country or you don't. I do.

Instead, I'll offer up a favourite song for each.

1. Kris Kristofferson - Sunday Morning Coming Down

2. Willie Nelson - Hello Walls

3. Billie Joe Shaver - Old Five and Dimers

4. Lefty Frizzell - If you've got the money, I've got the time

5. Ian Tyson - Irving Berlin (is 100 years old today)

Canuck Book 5 - The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews

I was never really sold on A Complicated Kindness, Toews' breakout GG winner. The premise was good but the story never grabbed me.

When I first heard about The Flying Troutmans, I had a feeling that this one would be different and it was. A road story of the highest order, this book is a real charmer. The only reason why I'm glad to be done this book is that I was getting tired of missing my bus and subway stops on the way to and from work.

The story deals with the 15 year old son and 11 year old daughter of a woman who has been hospitalized because of mental illness. Their 28 year old aunt returns home from Paris and a failed relationship to take care of them. Soon enough, they are on a transcontinental road trip in search of the father that was forced out years ago by the mother.

It sounds like a road movie in the Little Miss Sunshine vein and it plays out that way. Thankfully, Toews is such a good writer that the story doesn't slide into cliche and pat solutions. Instead, she hits all the right notes so well that you can't help but falling under the spell of this bittersweet tale. The ending will not come as a shock but that's beside the point. A good road trip is all about the journey, not the destination and this book is no different.

I read the last 20 pages or so in a rush last Friday because I didn't want to take a book up north with me that I would be finished with so soon. After I finished it, though, I still wound up carting it up north because I realized a book like this demands to be shared amongst friends and families. So I took the book up north and now it's my sister's turn to take the trip.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Soundtrack for My Friday Night

Had to rinse the dirty taste of politics out of my mouth by offering up something a little lighter. As such, here is my soundtrack for this Friday night while I do laundry and get ready for a trip up north:

1. Help Me Make It Through the Night - Kris Kristofferson - one of my all-time favourite songwriters. One of my favourite songs.

2. String Bean Jean - Belle and Sebastien - I've become a B&S junkie and I'm not afraid to admit it.

3. Easy Does It - Bonnie Prince Billy - My friend Ezio turned me on to Mr. Oldham's wonderful music. It took me a while to fall under the spell, but I did.

4. Tank Park Salute - Billy Bragg - I put this on a mixed cd I recently made for a friend and now I can't stop listening to it.

5. Angel of Lyon - Tom Russell - Americana never sounded so good. My foot stomps and my heart soars just thinking of it.

6. Willow Tree - Chad Vangaalen - Barbara is right. He is great.

7. Born On a Train - Magnetic Fields - Oddly perfect pop is what they do and this is both odd and perfect.

8. Most of the Time (alternate version) - Bob Dylan - Even his outtakes are golden.

9. Famous Blue Raincoat - Leonard Cohen - The weather turns cold and my heart turns to old Cohen songs for sustenance.

10. The Needle Has Landed - Neko Case - What a voice.

11. Country Road - Forest City Lovers - Saw this band at Word on the Street. Fantastic.

12. He Stopped Loving Her Today - Johnny Cash - George Jones does do it better, but this one, with Cash's aged voice and simple accompaniment, is a gem in its own right.

So, what are you listening to right now?

The Canuck Election or Safe and Sorry

The good news is that Harper lost. Sure, they will spin it by saying they expected to win a minority but they are just lying to themselves. And us. There was nothing to be gained from this little exercise if all they wanted was another minority. For all his faults, Harper is far too smart to do something that foolish. Fortunately for the rest of us, even a smart man is not immune to hubris. That is why we are sending another minority back to Ottawa.

The irony is that this minority victory is a very bitter defeat for Harper. He picked the right moment - before our economy starts to follow the American economy over the ledge - and faced a Liberal leader that was even less charismatic than he is. Add to this the fact that Dion was bound and determined to chase a grand unpopular ideal in his green shift and you had a victory that even the foot in mouth conservatives couldn't screw up. But they did.

As for the green shift, here are my thoughts. The world is a mess right now. Something needs to change or we will watch our affluent lifestyle slowly slide away. For better or worse, the green shift was a shot in the dark, an attempt to jumpstart us and point us towards a better future. Sure, there were some ugly realities tied up in the plan. It was going to cost us a lot. It was going to make things harder before they got easier. It was going to force a society accustomed to ease and convenience to work a little harder, do a little more. What's more, even then we couldn't be sure it would work.

The one thing we can be sure of, though, is that we can't take much more of the status quo. Even ignoring global warming - which far too many people seem willing to do - we have created a terrible mess with our willingness to pollute. Drugs in the drinking water. Smog related respiratory problems. Dangerous chemicals being found even in baby bottles. We haven't just paved paradise, we've paved everything else as well.

You have to give Dion some credit. At least he tried something different, even if it was political suicide. He at least tried to show some vision and daring - two qualities that are sorely lacking in most politicians these days - even if it fell apart. Of course, one of the main reasons why his vision and daring went unappreciated is because he really is not a leader. A smart man, yes. A leader, no. It wasn't just the language issue. Even with his much mocked accent, Chretien could still make himself understood. Not that I'm a great Chretien supporter, but one has to admit that he was a politician and a somewhat adept one at that. As a politician, Dion made a good academic.

When it came to choosing between the Cons and the Libs, it really was about choosing between safe for now and prepping for the future. Canada chose safe for now. Me? I chose neither, but that's another story. . .

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

That is the sound of Hank Williams rolling over in his grave. . .

I think we have a new contender for worst desecration of a parent's musical legacy ever. At least that Monday Night Football song he did was as easy to avoid as it was to ignore. Now Hank Williams Jr. has redone one of his forgettable "hits" into a creepy hymn to Palin-McCain:

I can only assume he is referring to Palin as the "hey good-looking dish" but I refuse to be surprised any more. Furthermore, if that's what everyday Americans want to listen to, then I'm glad to be a far from everyday Canuck.

Since when did "country" music become about rich white people shilling for rich white people? How did we go from "I'm so lonesome I could cry" to "the bankers didn't want to make all those broken loans"? I love country music. Cash and Nelson and Wells and Williams all get heavy play on my ipod. I love the newer alt country acts, the ones you would read about in the sadly defunct No Depression magazine. I love the older stuff - the Carter Family, shape note singers, bluegrass pickers. There is a rawness to the music that floors me in much the same way that the best blues does.

This song has none of that. It's clumsy and childish. If that's the best that McPalin can come up with, they might as well just stop now.

This rant was brought to you by the letter "G". Underused by Republicans for 8 years and counting.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Nuit Blanche or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Art

Last night, I went out at midnight to take in Nuit Blanche. They bill it as an all night contemporary art thing and they are dead on the money. It's a night of wandering all over downtown taking in art in all its many forms. It's a truly wonderful event. It runs from sunset to sunrise and the crowds are positively huge. It's all these people of all ages from all walks of life taking a night to enjoy art.

Like all the best art things, there were things I loved, things I didn't, things I thought were cool and things I just did not understand.

Wandering around downtown, taking in both the crowds and the installations, I had a lot of time to think about art. Recently, our wonderfully forward thinking conservative government cut a bunch of arts funding because "normal people don't care about art". I would argue that, due to the ignorance of modern politicians, normal people have not been given proper exposure to art, but what would I know? Of course, a night like last night goes a long way to proving the conservatives wrong.

I don't get it when people sneer at art because they don't understand it. As if they need to completely understand everything to make it worthwhile. What a ridiculous notion. I mean, I don't understand how my microwave works but, with a little faith and a few instructions, I can have a bowl of popcorn in three minutes.

Then there's the internet. This morning I wrote a letter to a friend in New Zealand. Due to the wonders of modern technology, I just expect that she will read the message the next time she turns her computer on. Do I understand how that works? Not really. Does this lack of understanding impact my ability to use and enjoy the internet? No more than not understanding how my remote controls works affects my ability to watch the hockey game on Saturday night.

Understanding is over-rated. I always go back to what Ian Tyson said about Ondaatje's novel Divisadero in a Globe and Mail Interview - "I love that book. I don't understand it, but I love it." That's how I feel about some truly great art. That's how I feel about some truly great poetry and novels and music. I have never been afraid to be mystified. Sometimes I try to unravel the mystery. Sometimes I leave it be.

There are a lot of things I don't understand about art. There always will be. This does not stop me from going out and experiencing it. Why should it? I believe that arts and culture are the backbone of a society, a touchstone for the people and a way of recording who we are. After all, what would we know about the ancient Romans or Greeks, if not for art?

Last night proved that I am not alone. Last night showed that even in an age when people are finding less reasons to go out - what with the internet and home theatre systems - that we are still social creatures and that we still communicate best through art.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

If I do buy a book in the near future. . .

. . . it will probably be this:

Alas, I have bought far too many books recently. My TBR pile is on the shortlist to become the eighth wonder of the modern world so I will have to put it on hold for a while.

Besides, with all the elections happening recently, I am getting more than my fill of primate ponderings just by watching the news. On that note, won't someone please toss Tucker Carlson a banana so he will have something to stuff in his mouth other than his foot?

Just a thought. . .

Night and Day

One question. Two candidates.

Argh. . .

(unfortunately you have to sit through an ad, but it's worth the wait)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Word and Music

So, I went to Word on the Street yesterday and had a great time. I saw David Bezmozgis give a great talk on starting out as a writer. I even got to chat with him for a minute afterward and told him how much I loved his book and how much I loved reading a book about an oft-ignored neighbourhood I passed through quite often when I lived up in North York. In his talk, he also mentioned being taught by and greatly respecting the work of Leonard Michaels. I've had Michael's collected stories for a while now but could never really get into it. I think I'll give it another shot.

I maintained some semblance of discipline and didn't turn the day into a book buying orgy like I normally do. Instead, I picked up two books of poetry I'd been meaning to pick up for a long time - Christian Bok's Eunoia and Lynn Crosbie's Liar. Eunoia is a book of poetry where each chapter contains words that contain only one of the five vowels. It's strange and daunting but also surprisingly readable. It's also strangely enough the closest Coach House books has come to publishing a bestseller. Lynn Crosbie's book is a far different affair. It is a book-long dissection of a failed relationship. Reading this book is an act of voyeurism tempered by the fact that Lynn Crosbie is a great writer, a writer you want to read and read even when the subject matter is so intensely personal.

Where my discipline deserted me, though, was when it came to music. Eye Weekly had a tent with a bunch of local musicians playing. I went over on a whim and wound up being floored by the Forest City Lovers. With guitar, bass and violin, the band plays wonderfully rootsy music that I could have spent all afternoon listening to.

The next act was pretty much equally incredible. Laura Barrett plays the kalimba - those African thumb pianos one sometimes sees buskers playing. She also plays piano and other things, but the kalimba is her thing. She plays these strange, sci-fi tinged songs that are really fun.

So I wound up with two cds, as well (FCL's Haunting Moon Sinking and Barrett's Victory Garden). Both discs are quite good and are competing with Chad VanGaalen for play on my ipod.

In the end, I left Word on the Street with two books and two cds. And a good deal of inspiration, thanks to Mr. Bezmozgis.

[if I mention buying another cd before the end of the decade, please confiscate my wallet]

Last night, I went with a friend to see Martin Tielli play at Hugh's Room. He's got a new band and has only just started playing again for the first time since the Rheostatics disbanded in the spring of 2007 (their last two shows - at the Horseshoe and Massey Hall - are near the top of my top 10 favourite concerts of all time).

Playing Hugh's Room, a venue that normally caters to more folky, acoustic acts, Martin gave a performance that was ideosyncratic in all the best ways - there is no one out there playing and performing the way Martin does. And there are few that seem to take so much enjoyment out of playing. That's what I always loved about watching the Rheos play - the sense of fun, the toying with convention and expectation. Dave Bidini and Michael Phillip-Wojewoda (the Rheo's rhythm guitarist and drummer, respectively) were in the audience and Dave came up to play Saskatchewan (a personal fave from the Rheos canon).

All told, it was a great show and worth the late night - I was in bed at 1am and up at 5am to head to work. Better living through strong coffee.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Books and books and books and books. . .

A quick word before I head off for Word on the Street.

(By the way, if you're in Toronto today and you have any sort of affection for those little bricks of paper and cardboard, head down to Queen's Park. It's wonderful to see so many book lovers out and about enjoying some sunshine [I hope] and some great readings.)

For those book lovers not heading to Word on the Street, it's worth your while to wander over to the Paris Review ( You can work your way through an archive of writer interviews that goes all the way back to the fifties. Miller, Auden, Pound, Cheever, Oates and so many more. The free interviews, alas, are only available up to the 1970's. After that, the best you can find are the copies of manuscript pages that the review published with each interview. Still, there is lots of great stuff to read and even a thing or two to learn.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fast Eddie is No More. . .

It seems that a week doesn't go by now without the death of another legend. This one, though, really bothers me.

Paul Newman is dead. The coolest actor of all time is no more.

He was my all time favourite actor, bar none. From Fast Eddie Felson to Cool Hand Luke to a great later role as Sully in Nobody's Fool, he was an actor you could depend upon - smart, funny and oh so cool.

I could go on and on talking about favourite roles and killer lines but what would be the point? You're far better off just renting some of his movies (start with the older ones) and seeing for yourself.

Shades of Blah. . .

What a dreary day out there. I'd half planned on going for a monster walk today but the threat of rain is making me think otherwise.

Watched the U.S. debate last night. Sadly, it wasn't quite the knockout punch I wanted to see from Obama but it was good enough. I still can't believe people might vote for McCain based on "experience". When the ruling party's track record is dreadful, why would you vote for more of the same?

One point - Somehow, John McCain still thinks a free market approach to health care is a good thing. The "free market"? If there's something we've learned from the American economic crisis, it's that the "free market" approach has done a horrible job of taking care of the free markets. And yet McCain still thinks that free markets can take care of people's health? Maybe it works when you have a house or six to spare, but most Americans don't have that luxury.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Went out and bought a new pair of walking shoes tonight. My feet demanded it. Fall is the season where I spend a lot of time wandering the city and my cheap old sneakers just weren't cutting it. Much better now.

While I was out I passed by a Book City. In the window was a remaindered hardcover copy of Michael Winter's This All Happened selling for 5 bucks. Talk about conflicted feelings.

There's a part of me that hates the remainder racks. I just can't stand seeing really good books being sold off for a fraction of what they originally sold for. I don't mind so much if the book is bad - and there are more than enough bad books being printed every year - but the good ones deserve a better fate.

Right now, I can go to any big bookstore in the city and find Alice Munro's Runaway, Jim Harrison's Returning to Earth and also his True North plus a number of other great books being sold off at bargain bin prices. These are books that everyone should read, books that should not have wound up tossed on the heap.

On the other hand, the only reason why I read Returning to Earth was because I had picked up a remaindered copy of True North on a whim and was blown away. Nick Hornby's High Fidelity was another bargain bin find for me. So there is some benefit to this system, I guess.

As for the Winter book, I bought it. Scruples be damned, I'd never seen a hardcover edition of the book before and couldn't resist. It's a truly amazing book and one of the few that I have reread and will reread again.

I'm really looking forward to Word on the Street this weekend. There are just so many great writers that will be there. I'm aiming to see Andrew Pyper and Russell Smith plus whatever else strikes my fancy.

ps. - If you haven't read Pyper's The Killing Circle yet, you really must.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Warning - stereotype confirmation alert. . .

I really don't hold any ill will against the Spears sisters. I hope they do well and prove to the world that they are truly smarter than they seem.

Alas. . .

Apparently, a pic has gotten out of the younger Spears sister breastfeeding. How did it get out? The baby's father took the pics to Walmart for developing and a pic got stolen.

That's right. He took the pics to frickin' Walmart!

I had to double check that this wasn't just a clever faux news piece from The Onion. I mean, how stupid do you have to be to take pics of a celebrity to your local Walmart for developing? Didn't he at least have some doubts about entrusting his celeb girlfriend's privacy to a minimum wage earning 'associate'?

It makes the head spin.

This should be the last time the Spears name sullies these pages. I just couldn't resist mentioning something so horrifically stupid. Schadenfreude? Perhaps.

Me vs. Genius

I think it's time I gave up on the politics. At least for a day or two. Far too depressing. It's like a Kurt Vonnegut novel come to life, only the funny isn't so funny 'cuz it's real.

I was flipping through my back pages, looking over some of my old blog posts when I stumbled across a post from last November. In that post, I offered up a playlist for a cold November night. Looking at it again, I still think it works really well.

It got me to thinking about itunes' Genius feature. If I could come up with this from my collection, what will Genius suggest given the same starting song? So I created a 16 song playlist starting with the Rev. Gary Davis' "I will do my last singing in this land somewhere".

(In the original one, I bookended the playlist with 2 versions of Goodnight Irene (Leadbelly's to start and Tom Waits' to finish). As I have not added any Leadbelly to my ipod yet, I dropped them from the list.)

Here are the results:

The Original List

1. I will do my last singing in this land somewhere - Rev. Gary Davis
2. Midnight Special - Odetta
3. Tower of Song - Leonard Cohen
4. Moanin' At Midnight - Howlin' Wolf
5. Tecumseh Valley - Townes Van Zandt
6. Visions of Johanna - Bob Dylan
7. Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night - Tom Waits
8. Help Me Make It Through The Night - Kris Kristofferson
9. Coney Island Baby - Lou Reed
10. Wichita Lineman - Johnny Cash
11. River - Joni Mitchell
12. Streets of Baltimore - Gram Parsons
13. He Stopped Loving Her Today - George Jones
14. Sweet Jane - Cowboy Junkies
15. Toledo - Danny Michel
16. Lua - Bright Eyes

The Genius List

1. I will do my last singing in this land somewhere - Rev. Gary Davis
2. Pony Blues - Son House
3. Sickbed Blues - Skip James
4. High Heeled Sneakers - Buddy Guy and Junior Wells
5. You're Going to Need Somebody on Your Bond - Taj Mahal
6. Three Hundred Pounds of Joy - Howlin' Wolf
7. Juke - Little Walter
8. Crosscut Saw - Albert King
9. Into the Night - B.B. King
10. A Man of Many Words - Buddy Guy and Junior Wells
11. Bring it on Home - Sonny Boy Williamson
12. Rubber Biscuit - The Blues Brothers
13. Both Sides Now - Dave Van Ronk
14. I Feel Like Going Home - Muddy Waters
15. Louis Collins - Mississippi John Hurt
16. Twelve Gates to the City - Rev. Gary Davis

I know I'm horribly biased but so what? That's why I have this blog. I like my list better. Of course, a big part of that comes from knowing how and why I put the list together whereas the Genius list is just random. Not that it doesn't hit some high points - you've got 7 decades of the blues represented here which is always a good thing - but it lacks something.

That said, I find it an interesting contrast. Even if I stuck to the blues, I doubt I'd come up with a list much like the one Genius created. Would I play this list? Yes, but not more than once or twice. But that's the nice thing about genius - with a few clicks of the mouse, I can have a whole new list to dissect.

Monday, September 22, 2008

More thoughts on politics

I've been watching way too much election coverage lately of both the canuck and yank variety. The one thing that has really bothered me lately is the notion that people want to vote for the candidate that is most like they are. What are these people thinking?

You see, if I met a politician that was just like me, do you know what I would do? I would buy him a beer. I would shoot the breeze with him and maybe even play some poker with him. If he happened to play the guitar, I might just pull out my harmonica and jam with him. This being modern times, I would facebook him and link him on my blog and tell everyone what a great guy he is.

The one thing I would not do? Vote for him. Why? Because I know exactly the sort of politician I would be. I would be the guy hanging with the no names on the back bench listening to my ipod and maybe reading a book under the desk while the rest of the suits debated stuff. If someone started talking to me about party lines, I'd admit quite candidly that I do not do hard drugs. Sure, I'd probably perk up when it came to cultural matters, but how often does that happen nowadays? In truth, I would be horrible, a drain to the system hanging out in that beautiful library and reading a novel.

With that knowledge in mind, how could I in good conscience vote for a candidate that was just like me? That's how we got where we are today. That's why Harper thinks that a commercial of him playing music with his son represents a valid political argument for his re-election. That's why the news channels spent so much time talking about lipstick and so little time about the beliefs behind that lipstick.

When I went in for the surgery on my aneurysm, I did not worry about whether I liked the doctors or identified with them. I just wanted them to do their job and do it well. Thankfully, they did. When I vote for a politician, I want the same thing - competence not camaraderie.