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.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bush-els of Bad Tidings

Another week and another bailout by the Bush government. This wouldn't be so bad if the government was also taking steps to help those who might not run banks and insurance companies.

Instead, Bush has largely just stood by while record numbers of people are forced from their homes. I know. I know. I shouldn't question him. After all, if nothing else, Bush is all about the (rich, republican, born again) common folks.

Sadly, something doesn't add up. Now, I will freely admit my religious beliefs are nowhere near as strong as Bush's but I'm beginning to wonder if we are even reading from the same bible. I've been thumbing through my King James Version all morning and I have yet to find the part about protecting the money lenders and forsaking the poor.

Even better, the attitude behind this bias is that people should not expect the government to bail them out for making ill-informed, rash decisions. They should bear responsibility for trying to take advantage of a market that was out of control.

Who says irony is dead?

Perhaps Mr. Bush should put down his bible and find himself a dictionary. There's got to be one somewhere in the White House library, left by a president who might've actually cracked the spine on a book or two. He should then look up the word hypocrite.

(Of course, chances are the library has already been converted into a Presidential rec room, complete with 100 inch plasma, la-z-boy and ping pong table.)

Why I'm Starting to Turn Green

This federal election has been tough for me. I mean, I know what I don't want - that's a Harper government of any stripe but particularly not a majority. As for the government I want, that's a little harder to define. The Liberals have never really excited me. The NDP have irked me since the Alexa McDonough days when the party that should have worried about labour issues seemed to base it's whole platform around children and the elderly. Not that I have anything against children and the elderly, it's just that I expected more from the NDP and didn't get it.

This has left me with few options. One year, I even voted Marxist-Leninist because it was only in the fringe parties that I saw my interests being addressed.

This year, though, I may wind up turning Green. I've never really had much interest in the party. I guess I never really looked at what they stood for other than the environment. Looking at their platform, though, I see a lot to like:

Restoring the GST to 6 per cent from its currently 5 per cent. Transfer the revenue to cities for environmental infrastructure projects such as public transit.

$50-a-tonne carbon tax that would that would be used to fund poverty reduction measures and reduce income taxes.

Mandatory three-week vacation.

Reduced payroll taxes to encourage more employment instead of more overtime.

They also want to decriminalize marijuana. Not something that will affect me, personally, but I do have friends who will like that. Besides, I've never really understood how alcohol can be legal and even promoted with massive amounts of advertising while marijuana is vilified. And, no, Cheech and Chong movies don't count as advertising.

As part of their environment platform, they are also big into trains. I'm not sure how feasible the notion of twinning rails are as it's pretty much already been done where it is most cost effective, but more money into infrastructure and technology will make the greener way even, well, greener.

Besides, you have to love a party that's willing to campaign by train. It sure beats the other parties, who talk about the environment and then jet off to the next town.

Perhaps we should require all the parties to campaign by train. Put them all on one train (with a suite of cars devoted to each party) and then, rather than popping into towns for meaningless soundbites, they may be tempted to engage in actual dialogue and debate. Heck, if they were forced to share the same dining car each night, they might actually find ways to bridge the ever widening gaps between their parties.

With a campaign train, they would wind up visiting more communities, big and small, close and remote (how about having the debate in Churchill, Manitoba or White River, Ontario). Of course, other modes of transportation would be allowed for regions not covered by rail, like the Territories, P.E.I. and Newfoundland.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Anyone else out there playing with the new Itunes novelty Genius? It was on the latest software update. What it does is offer up a playlist from your library based on a song you select.

For instance, I used genius on the song Desert Island by the Magnetic Fields.

Genius offered up the following selection after Desert Island:

1. Echos Myron by Guided by Voices
2. As You Turn to Go by The 6ths
3. Magnet's Coil by Sebadoh
4. Nice Day for a Sulk by Belle and Sebastian
5. Rollercoaster by Jesus and Mary Chain
6. Singapore by Tom Waits
7. Young Lions by The Constantines
8. Gimme Danger by Iggy Pop
9. The Sun Goes Down and the World Goes Dancing by the Magnetic Fields
10. the Daniel Johnston song Go covered by Sparklehorse and The Flaming Lips

It actually goes on for another 14 songs but you get the idea. It will also offer up a sidebar of recommended songs to buy from itunes, but that is easy enough to hide.

My friend Adam, singer-songwriter and music geek extraordinaire, is quite taken by the concept. He cites some of the almost uncanny selections that appear, songs that compliment or juxtapose themes and styles in ways he might not have come up with himself. He says it has given him a new way to look at his music collection.

I'm not quite so excited, but I think it's an interesting experiment. I keep looking for the stranger, more obscure tunes in my library and checking what Genius will come up with. Overall, it's been pretty good. I can see using it like my own personal radio station for when I'm puttering about.

Speaking of which, I have some laundry and cleaning to do. So excuse me while I putter. . .

A New Greener Me

Baby steps. . . Baby steps. . .

Lately, I've become sort of bothered by the number of coffee cups I've been using. I love my coffee but I hate making it for myself. As such, I often make the trek down the street to the local Starbucks. Enough trips to Starbucks and even I could see I was wasting a lot of trees.

As such, in a fit of guilt (or whimsy), I went out and bought a stainless steel coffee mug. It feels sort of odd to walk into a coffee shop with your own mug, but the people behind the counter didn't seem to mind.

My verdict? Mixed.

On the plus side, I'm reducing waste. I'm also saving myself some money.

On the minus side, the air-tight seal isn't really all that air tight. I'm glad I was close to home when I first used the mug because walking alround all day with coffee all over my shirt would not have been fun. It's not too bad as long as you're careful, though.

What I'll have to do next is get one for at work.

Now all I have to do is try to cut out the plastic water bottles. . .

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What I'm Reading

Not much to say so I figured I'd offer up a couple of choice lines from books I've been reading lately:

"-he's the kind of guy who would make a heavy-breathing call collect if he could get away with it."

- Changing Places by David Lodge

"oh god it's wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much"

- from Steps by Frank O'Hara from the book Lunch Poems

"What happens in the heart simply happens."

- from Child's Park by Ted Hughes from the book Birthday Letters

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Stealing from Ninjas. . .

I had to steal this link from Bookninja ( It's a comic story about a bookseller. Odd and cool.

By the way, if you aren't checking out bookninja regularly, you are missing out.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Why I Like The Huffington Post

Citing Republican VP nominee Palin's affection for earmarks and old-school budgetary pork (the very pork she claims to be against), they posed the question - What's the difference between Sarah Palin and an old-style GOP crony?


Ba-da Ba.

I spend way too much time watching and reading American political news and views. Of course, I can excuse myself by saying I'm just doing research. I mean, all you have to do is watch what the Republicans do and say and you'll get a good idea of what to expect from Mr. Harper.

By the way, if you are not already reading Yann Martel's blog, you really need to start. His latest post is a response to the Conservative's recent cuts in arts funding. It's a good one.